Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Monday, 5 August 2013

Q - Questions - Joe Tilson

Joe Tilson, Q - Questions, 1969-70, screenprint on paper, 750 x 501 mm, Tate.

Another from Tilson's A-Z Box.  Here Tilson moderately tinkers with the 1931 publicity shot of Greta Garbo as the Sphinx, adding text ('Q?'), a slight psychedelic starburst effect exploding from Garbo's eye, and a tint.  You could argue that such meddling adds nothing much, other than a mild amplification of what's already there.  Garbo is the Sphinx, she is an enigma.  The Sphinx had its riddles, Garbo had her own mysteries.  Is this just a case of yet more blank pop art, mutely putting something already in the world on display?
   Well, not quite.  I actually left off one intervention Tilson has made.  He's shifted Garbo several inches towards the right, so that she is now in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, instead of off it to the side.  This lining of her head with it's diagonal, and the interplay between the lines of the starburst and those of the pyramid somehow create an occult charge that is absent from the source image.  We've moved from kitsch into something more unnerving, like a card from a Tarot pack.  You half-expect Kenneth Anger to stage a ritual in front of it all.  We are drawn into Garbo's face, and the mystery is no longer some banal thing about why she doesn't want studio-hands to do interviews much.  She is the Sphinx.  Her mystery is death.

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