Slater Bradley and Ed Lachman: Dead Ringer

“I think the larger issue is, as human beings, how do we cope with loss? If you’re so in love with something, or if something resonates in such a beautiful way with you that it creates this formation of your identity, and then it’s suddenly ruptured—that relationship between the icon and the fan—how do you cope with that? There doesn’t seem to be a real coping mechanism in society…How does one keep in touch?”  –Slater Bradley

A haunting meditation on mythology, mortality, and identify, Dead Ringer is a groundbreaking collaboration between American artist Slater Bradley and noted cinematographer Ed Lachman. Lachman, whose best known films include Far from Heaven, Erin Brockovich, and The Virgin Suicides, was director of photography for the1993 film Dark Blood, which starred River Phoenix, and which was still in production at the time of the actor’s sudden death in Los Angeles. Bradley, whose photographs and films explore celebrity and the fractured nature of identity, worked with Lachman to create two video installations and a series of photographs referencing Dark Blood, derived from Lachman’s memories of filming the original work and combined with Bradley’s complex identification with the late actor as both subject and symbol.

The narrative of Dark Blood is the story of a young Navajo man living alone in the Nevada desert near a nuclear testing site. An ill-fated encounter with a traveling couple ends in the Navajo’s death, though the ending scenes were left unfinished until 2012. Filmed seventeen years later in the same location in Utah, Bradley and Lachman’s Shadow is a prelude to Dark Blood, the imagined past of the leading character, which combines images of the original film, its sets and artifacts, with footage from Shadow’s production, along with the new film. Time, place, action, and identity variously align, fracture, and morph in these still and moving images.

In both Shadow and the related video, Dead Ringer, Phoenix’s character is played by Ben Brock, an actor Bradley has consistently cast in his work. Brock’s close resemblance to Slater Bradley renders him a doppelganger (an uncanny double) for both the artist and the deceased celebrities he portrays in Bradley’s images of Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, and here, River Phoenix. Bradley first encountered his double in a New York nightclub in 1999; he began casting Brock in The Doppelganger Trilogy in 2001, following the 9/11 tragedy. Since the early 20th century, doppelgangers have been associated with periods of economic, political, social and technological upheaval. Bradley’s shadowy doubles—actually tripled layers of personae—mirror multiple aspects of identity and the collective American psyche today. This body of Bradley’s work heralds an important turning point in his practice: the 3-channel video, Dead Ringer, includes a moment in which, for the first time, Bradley enters the frame, takes part in the scene, and “ghosting” the action in Dark Blood, kills the lead character—who is also Phoenix/Brock/the doppelganger.

Slater Bradley was born in San Francisco, California, in 1975 and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He received a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles. Bradley gained national attention with the inclusion of his piece, Theory and Observation, in the Whitney Biennial in 2004, and the following year he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim, Recent Acquisitions: Slater Bradley’s Doppelganger Trilogy, at the age of 30. Other recent solo shows have been presented at Galeria Filomena Soares, Lisbon (2012), the Team Gallery, New York (2012), the Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, Colorado (2011-2012), the Max Wigram Gallery, London (2011), the Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid (2011), the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2010-11), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2005). His work is included in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, all New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; the 21c Museum, Louisville, Kentucky; the Fundación Helga de Alvear, Cáceres, Spain; The Ellipse Foundation, Cascais, Portugal; and the Frans Hals Museum Y De Hallen Haarlem, The Netherlands. In 2005, Bradley received the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award in Video.

A full-color catalog for an earlier presentation of this exhibition, Look Up and Stay in Touch, published by the Aspen Art Press/Aspen Art Museum and edited by director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, is available in the 21c Museum Shop.