David Rosetzky: Trouble in Paradise - Art Collector

Issue 28, April - June 2004

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The work of David Rosetzky takes on the sheen of advertising but poses difficult questions on the way through, writes Andrew Frost.

There’s another world apart from ours. It shadows us and mimics our moves, reflects our emotions and seduces us with its promises. It’s the hyper-gloss world of advertising, magazines, TV and movies. And it’s the place from where David Rosetzky’s art is drawn. Using video, photography, drawing and installation, Rosetzky has chosen perhaps the hardest project for any artist working today – to take on the monolith of consumer culture on its own terms.

The 33 year-old Melbourne-based artist is on a roll at the moment, just returned from a successful show in Japan and, since 2000, he’s had solo exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Madrid, Rotterdam, Tokyo and Berlin. With the market for DVDs made by artists taking off and photography ascendant as the prime form of contemporary artistic expression, Rosetzky is quickly becoming one of the most significant artists of his generation.

A graduate of the Victorian College of Arts, Rosetzky worked extensively through artist run spaces in Melbourne. As a co-founder of First Floor Gallery, one of Melbourne’s leading alternative art spaces, Rosetzky’s work has often been compared to that of his contemporaries David Noonan, Darren Sylvester and Sarah Ryan. “The artist-run gallery Store 5 was operating across the road from art school,” remembers Rosetzky. “I went regularly and it inspired me to start First Floor gallery with a group of my peers when I left college.”

Rosetzky began his career as a painter, slowly moving away from canvases to video. “I studied painting at art school and in my final years I began working with sculptural installation,” he recalls. “At the time I was responding more strongly to object-based practices than painting, and then, out of art school, I started to incor-porate video into my installation work. [Then] I became interested in experimenting with the possibilities of contemporary portraiture using the moving image.”

Rosetzky’s work locates portraiture within the realms of “lifestyle” imagery – familiar from magazines like Wallpaper and Surface, CD covers and homeware catalogues. The artist has gone to great lengths to simulate the “look” of these kinds of images, employing crews of people on the production of his pieces including models and actors, musicians and make up people.

But there’s trouble in utopia; a festering doubt, an existential angst that’s played out as part comedy, part confessional. One of the most discussed aspects of Rosetzky’s work has been the disjunction between the way the works look – and the meaning that that look implies – and the apparently sincere voice-overs on the soundtrack. In the work Justine from 2000, a woman is seen in a designer, minimalist apartment listening to a retro reel-to-reel tape deck with a pair of large white headphones. Smooth, Euro-lounge music tinkles on the soundtrack as a grey cat looks on. “In my spare time I get stressed out,” the woman’s voice says on the soundtrack. “I feel like I have to create my whole lifestyle, like does my music match my mood, my decor, my hair? What does it matter? Nobody knows what I do, or what I look like when I’m alone. It’s not like there are people watching me all the time, I’m famous and I’ve got people stalking me.”


Watching Justine, especially with knowledge of the history of artist’s use of video and film, is unsettling. On the one hand, Rosetzky foregrounds the work’s production values, a consumer fetishist’s fantasy of untroubled consumption, yet the voice over, performed flat and without dramatic inflection, seems to be an attempt to critique the image by an introduction of the real. Midway through Justine, the image abruptly cuts to grainy, documentary style images of the woman in a Chinese restaurant, only to return to the becalmed oasis of the earlier interior. What the devil is going on here? Is it the documentary-style section that’s meant to be the authentic statement, the voice over with its self-aware inconsistency, or is all this just another artifice? “I’m interested in how people negotiate the space that exists between the ideal and the real in their everyday lives,” says Rosetzky. “I’m not interested in making documentaries, I don’t believe in that idea of authenticity. My work attempts to create fissures within the seamless aesthetic of the lifestyle culture that surrounds us.”

In other works, Rosetzky attempts similar disjunction but by using different methods. In Summer Blend, the artist’s most successful attempt at creating advertising’s look, there is no voice over, just the long, lingering tilt down over a man’s body as he obsessively fixes his hair, then cutting away to a woman, and then another man, applying skin cream. With just the airy music to accompany the imagery, the length of the shots disturbs expectations. Where’s the product shot? Why is this going on for so long?

In Weekender, one of Rosetzky’s most celebrated pieces, a group of young people are seen wandering through a forest, sitting on a beach, goofing around in a kitchen, or alone in front of a mirror. With voiceovers that examine the duplicity of emotional relationships, Weekender conjures up the spirit of a Tommy Hilfigger advert directed by Jean-Luc Godard, as though these fetching, colour-coördinated post-teens were on the set of Godard’s Passion. Rosetzky screens Weekender on a loop, but each time the piece is replayed, the voiceovers change, shifting the subjective nature of the voice into an uneasy province of indeterminacy, where the identity of the speaker is lost. Weekender has proven to be one of the artist’smost successful, and popular, pieces.

“I think that young people in particular respond to Weekender because they recognise themselves in it,” says Rosetzky. “When I was in Japan recently and showed it [the work] with Japanese subtitles, it was a real hit with the young audience – people came up to me and said things like ‘I really relate to this work – it reminds me of my best friend’. I think this is partly because the style of the language used is casual and familiar so people feel an affinity with it. Also I think people can relate to the content of the voice-overs – stories of love gone wrong, expressions of insecurity or jealousy and the desire to achieve intimacy with others.”

And what was the artist thinking in the use of the shifting voiceovers? “I wanted to destabilise the relationship between the voiceover narration and the image,” explains Rosetzky. “For instance, a female voice might narrate [in the first person] a scene of a man looking in the mirror, and the next time we see this same scene, a man’s voice can be heard. I wanted to present an idea of identity as something that is shifting and constructed, rather than fixed and essential.”

Applying these approaches to portraiture, Rosetzky has created a series of works that are not immediately explicable, complicated by the viewer’s own experience of the meaning of the way the images are made, as well as the need to decode the intention of the voiceovers. In pieces like Custom Made, which utilised a detailed installation of wooden structures onto which the video was projected, and Hothouse, originally installed in a window at Sydney’s Centennial Park, which used straight-to-camera monologues by models caressed by anonymous hands, the artist has attempted to widen the delivery methods of his ideas. Rosetzky’s video works are often accompanied by photographic stills shot during the production of the video works and in the case of Weekender, were complimented by a series of drawings that recalled the kinds of illustrations that accompany Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets. Rosetzky has also recently used sculptural installation, the piece Commune was a series of life-size photo cut outs joined together by a pulsing, plastic encased light.

But the consistency in Rosetzky’s practice is in the unwavering recognition of the complexity of human interaction. “I often use specific advertisements, TV shows and fashion photographs as reference material for my work,” explains the artist. “It’s important that my work reflects these sources as I am concerned with how this type of visual language affects the way we live and how we see ourselves in relation to one another.”

On one level it seems that Rosetzky’s work is the epitome of contemporary artistic styling, the apparent ennui of his subjects a neatly reflective surface of the audience’s low grade angst. We secretly desire admission to that perfect world even if we know it’s elusive. The depth of Rosetzky’s work lies in the very disjunction between our desires and their denial. As Jean-Luc Godard observed, “style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body; both go together, they can't be separated.”



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