The Burbs

Nic Nicosia's photos aim to prove that bedroom communities aren't always so sleepy

In these "Real Pictures," Nicosia transforms the seemingly insignificant into the crushingly consequential. In one image five young girls, standing on a bridge with their backs to the viewer, have attached a doll to a rope and are caught trolling it in the river below. Nicosia seems to be probing those last fragile moments of childhood before that transition into the hardened world of the adult. Nowhere is that captured better than in an image set at the watery base of a rocky cliff where Nicosia played as a child. Here three girls and an elderly man have come upon a dead body floating between the boulders. The man urges the girls not to look, but they're obviously fascinated by it. Nicosia confronts head-on the anxiety and desperation inherent in those moments when a child is forced to face something he or she doesn't fully understand.

A loss of innocence can turn into something darker and moodier as middle age sets in; that's a theme Nicosia explores in his "Love and Lust" and "Untitled" series, which take a poignant, if painful, look at such complex themes as marriage, relationships and growing old. Nicosia peels back the layers to discover what lies beneath the surface of our bedroom communities, where we often think we're immune to life's little displeasures. He has a viewer/voyeur peer over a wall and through some bushes to a patio where a beautiful woman dances in front of a slightly paunchy middle-aged man. She's enjoying herself, and he's definitely having a good time. What's more, Nicosia has tinted the image a luscious green, lending the scene the mood of a dreamy, hot summer night.

Nicosia graduated with a degree in film and communication, so a change of medium seems logical for an artist who has spent two decades working as his own director, actor, cameraman and wardrobe master. His films at the CAM remind you at every turn that surfaces rarely reflect the depths of human reality.

Hurricamp warning: Nicosia takes a slapstick approach to photography.
Nic Nicosia
Hurricamp warning: Nicosia takes a slapstick approach to photography.


is on view through November 28 at the Contemporary Arts Museum, 5216 Montrose.

Set to circuslike music, Middletown puts you in the passenger seat as the artist drives through a Dallas neighborhood. You circle around and around viewing the slightly surreal, mundane activities -- a man watering his yard, kids riding their bikes, two businessmen in cowboy hats walking down the road. In Moving Picture, you enter a suburban colonial-style home and circle its various rooms to the accompaniment of lonely Roy Orbison-like riffs. These films, like all of Nicosia's, are many things: sometimes very funny, sometimes eccentric and most definitely loaded with pathos.

It's easy to get sucked into Nicosia's hypnotic, transcendent worlds, much like it's easy to get caught up in the America Dream itself. Nicosia's cyclical approach to his art heightens your sense of inability to differentiate mirage from substance. It's a world where "identity" is placed in question marks, the skepticism arising from the heavy dread, as heavy as an anvil, that often accompanies suburban living. Even in the suburbs, it seems, lives do not move along compass points.

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