John Divola- THE Magazine (March 2009)
Prefigured by John Divola’s series “Vandalism” created over thirty years ago in 1974, “Dark Star” continues in the artist’s practice of illegally entering abandoned houses and painting on every available surface- walls, the floor, doorways- armed with nothing but a can of spray paint and his camera. The concept behind Divola’s five large- scale color photographs is deceptively simple, tracing five spray-painted circles through domestic interiors in the California desert. However the markings or the graffiti tags themselves present a duplicitous art object, one that is both a painterly photograph and the performance of entering a private space documented on film. “Dark Star” therefore is the turning of the screw unhinging the roles of painter and photographer as the work reflects painterly photographs and are photographs that document the performance of painting. The work also confronts the urban space and its relationship with its surrounding environment, and questions the differences between public and private sectors. Divola’s use of graffiti in empty spaces connects urbanity with the barren life of the desert, where inhabitants live on the fringe and have been pushed beyond city limits.
The “dark star” is a way to navigate through the empty walls of abandoned desert homes and signals a common urban experience. We have grown accustomed to graffiti stains strung along freeway overpasses. They are indicators that someone was once here, but no longer remains. The mark may outlive its maker, but for Divola the only way to insure its survival is to photograph it.