Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Jake Preval's Costumes

by Kirsty Hulm

02 Dec 2012

Until recently, Jake Preval had predominantly worked in performance. He spoke with Kirsty Hulm about his transition to photography for a recent project, as well as his reasons for exaggerating reality and fantastical beasts in elaborate masks. Have you been heavily involved in the costumery in your past performances? I see similarities of style through to the new photographic works. Yes. Costume and set design has always been a key element in the performance work I have been a part of. The design and the final performed image – costume, set, sound - has always been integral to my way of creating work. When I worked with BabyshadS we would start with a series of images or key costumes and moments and work out from there. There is a definite emphasis on the absurd in the costuming and performances to date. How do you see performance informing your transition to work behind the camera? I think performance allows for and demands a very direct relationship with its audience. There is a more immediate dialogue between ‘performer’ and  ‘viewer’ which is exciting. Each is always shifting – responding to the other. Energy feeds off energy and no two performances can ever be the same. There is also a really interesting parallel between the black box of the theatre and the white space of the photography studio. Both provide spaces that while attempting to be neutral cant help but contextualise and frame action and gesture in a very distinct way. These ideas have definitely affected the way I compose and consider the photographic image. I try to keep the possibility of change alive in the studio while still working within a strict frame. In this series, I really wanted the relationship between image and audience to retain some of the directness performance allows. For a long time the work was going to be a performance but I found something appealing in the remove and distance that photography allows. The camera in this case is the proscenium arch through which these bodies are viewed. The isolated gesture allows for a different kind of contemplation free from associated actions. Costume works very differently in photographs- you have no movements by which to qualify it’s meaning in the context of action- everything is ornament as it sits static. Nudity in particular has become an almost fetishised 'costume' for photographers. How did you deal with this in your new series? Costume implies a performativity that changes the way you look at the works and the bodies within them. In this series the partial nudity is very much a part of the overall costuming. All the couples are photographed with nothing but black briefs and masks. In a way it renders these fantastical beasts uniform – all of flesh, fabric and cardboard. The photos do not seek to fetishise the human form but instead to reveal it in its most vulnerable and its most reductive form. In line with the biblical tales being explored nudity here also echoes the images of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in a pure and innocent state except here it is an act. The new works feature heavy facial masks- how do you see this 'masking' operating in reference to queer culture- why did you choose to hide the facial identities of your characters so radically? The idea of a costume implies a pretending, one dons a costume, when one wishes to imitate or perform the role of someone/something else. There is a direct lineage with this idea of the performed self in queer theory. I am also really interested in the notion of ‘Camp’ as a concept that in re-presenting an exaggerated reality is able to magnify the truth of a situation. I think camp gets a bad rap generally but when done well camps parody illuminates an honesty that is sharp and incredibly insightful. In this series by hiding their most distinguishable feature, the face, under masks, I wanted to universalise the position that they fill as queer bodies and explore the social masks queer culture is forced to don in order to fit within a hetero-normative society.  But in titling the works with the names of the couples eg Laura and Jess I wanted to re-insert the personal into the faceless political allegory and encourage the audience to seek a more personal reading amidst the absurdity of the masks. Noah the film (starring Russell Crowe) is currently in production- how do you anticipate your series sitting beside what we can only assume will be a hetero-normative action packed re-telling of the Biblical story? I think they would make a beautiful double bill! Maybe I will make some street paste ups and hit up the cinemas when it comes out…