STATES OF GLORY
The United States of America as a nation, as an idea, as a way of life, has always strived for glory. A land of promise where anyone’s dreams can be fulfilled, quickly and at a discount. That timeless ideal has found itself worn down by time as the country succumbed to the dogmas of religious and capitalist evangelism. In the exhibition 'States of Glory', the second solo show by Gioia de Bruijn (1986, Curacao) at Flatland, American thirst for instant gratification has taken its toll as Gioia reveals to us with an almost medicated gaze. Not the hysteria of each subsequent current crisis but the steady decay of a nation’s very foundations. Just as the analogue process dies a slow but certain death, so too does the moral high ground the United States of America stills stubbornly lays claim too.
Gioia is clearly fascinated by American youthful exuberance and witnesses the inevitable hubris that accompanies it with a cheeky impartiality. Not unlike her Weekend Warriors series where she documented the hedonism of Amsterdam after-party culture Gioia is again captivated by that brilliant flash of existence that bursts forth like the blast of a hand cannon at a firing range. Her style is expeditious and austere. A quick pause to capture a fleeting moment or she herself is gone and on to the next.
Her photographs offer us a detached glimpse of an America that is set in its ways. She is bemused by its determination to stay true to its idea of greatness and is equally intrigued by the country’s obliviousness to its own decline. Gioia describes her work as ‘valium for my soul’ and in States of Glory shares with us a perspective where judgement and passion are both sedated and numbed. There doesn’t seem to be that much united about America these days yet the prophetic vision still endures, the exhibition tells us.
Nations are ‘imagined communities,’ according to Benedict Anderson, 'because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.’ States of Glory portrays an imagined community that thrives in America as the picture of the Stars and Stripes flying triumphantly beside a quintessential homestead affirms.
Her images show us the veneer of America’s modernist façade that erupted out of the post-war economic boom while leaving the keen eye to notice the crumbling details that hide just beneath the surface. The lone wooden church somewhere in the Midwest and the monochrome hotel room that looks out over densely packed skyscrapers contain in them both the beauty of their subject’s original intent and the undeniable despair that has been worn into its very bedrock. The homeless man in a filthy Berkeley shirt isolated among a throng of tourists reminds us of the anti-climax to the cultural revolution of the ‘60s. The neon entry sign to Zion National Park speaks for itself. America is a vibrant yet often lonely place where it’s okay to lose yourself, Gioia tells us, be it in the old man hunched over and dressed to the nines or the Manhattan rooftop doorway to nowhere.
Glory is an illusion. It is an abstract construct. It is also an imagined state that allows us an escape from the weighty mundanity of life. Likewise, the exhibition States of Glory allow us to escape into America as a land of adventure that may be bankrupt in abundance but where the potential for glory still faithfully abides.
Gioia de Bruijn graduated with honours from the Camberwell College of Arts in London. The honesty and trust in her work had been compared with the modernist photographer Berenice Abbott. In 2015 it was photographic director Lauren Ford of Dazed to name Gioia as "one of top ten of Unseen photo fair".