Carter, Bring in the Actual Photo, 1999, mixed media. Detail from installation view. Courtesy of Four Walls, San Francisco.
Four Walls, San Francisco
Published in Flash Art no. September 1999
Warhol, inimitably deadpan from cradle to grave, cast the spirit of the age in his own self-image, defining our sensibilities as "bored and hyper." Carter's series of plastic sculpted heads and suite of nude male figurines trade the condition for the cure, rerouting our fast-twitch emotions out of their spiritual short-circuit with metaphoric thought balloons straining against identity's glass ceiling. While Warhol revealed glamour as the most desperate urge for community, transforming the vacant into virtue, reticence into reason, Carter suggests that our smorgasbord of spiritual options -- from personal growth gurus to New Age faiths, cults to crystals -- advertise a plenitude of authentic difference, yet merely deliver a temporary balm of conformity.
Like bodiless mannequins, each featureless head is grafted with hair implants reminiscent of 80s polaroids of Warhol in drag, and are adorned with sculpted band aids and push pins doubling as acupuncture needles. Carter's affectless clone-heads are presumptively wounded -- lost and adrift in an overloaded mall of designer rituals and accesorized religions. The band-aids act as protective talismans against the false promise of commodified spirituality, and are "healing" tokens facilitating the leap from faith to belief. Tattooed to the side of each bust are iconic emblems suggesting their interior thoughts: a biomorphic abstract swirl, a glowing kitsch Madonna hovering over a convertible Cadillac, or a triangle of three iMAC computers in teal, cranberry and turquoise.
Like Macintosh's "Think different" campaign, which pairs visionary celebrities with a rebel-chic corporate mantra (for profit, not liberation), Carter equates "personal growth" with the willingness to adopt a disguise, or at least to acquire the trappings of that disguise, be it hipster, artist, or yuppie. The uniform presentation of bewigged heads formally highlights this fungible identity, as well as the styrofoam drink cups resting inertly next to them, sly standins for coffee culture's supposed lifestyle revolution.
A row of classically posed figurines mounted on handmade cardboard plinths conflate the hetero world of scientific illustration and anatomical models with the soft-core pleasures of gay pin-up idols. In Carter's knowing hands, the Sunday school cliché of the ecstatic body, popularized in "straight" comic book culture (a writhing hero ringed in a cosmic nimbus), gets an intelligent, erotic revision that is truly ecstatic.