But before jumping into the deep end of interpretation, it's probably best to double back to thinking about the socio-political differences of "painting by the pool" inasmuch as say, Hockey celebrated the pool, not only as a means of representing the elegant graphic tensions that both printmaking and pop art trade on, but also because of the playful space it offered the body, and the body politic of gay culture in particular. By contrast, Fischl's Southern California iconography gave us the pool as a much more problematic place of middle class discontent, owing more to David Lynch's oblique camera angels and Edward Hopper's disparate encounters than one might first suspect. In fact, Fischl's work was so gritty and bleached out of the kind of saturated colors of say, Sargent or Sorolla, that he was labeled the father of "The School of Bad Painting". This, of course, was meant to be a kind of tasteless jab by critics that inadvertently shot Fischl into fame by becoming the first "father" of a Southern California art movement... of one! And if being reviled for indulging in a kind of blunted pallet and affectless touch wasn't bad enough in the town of Hollywood glitz and glamour, Fischl only deepened his commitment to a form of deadpan Neo-expressionism in the years that followed. He continued to offer us images of a place where estranged families lounge, caught up in ambiguous narratives of disquietude, ultimately courting a laissez-faire atmosphere that was absent of the rebel attitude adopted by many of his contemporaries. Nevertheless, this misanthropic strategy served Fischl well in his rise to fame during the late 80's and early 90's, a period know for its financial excesses and what was perhaps the last great grasp at achieving the American dream of generational upward mobility.
And yet, when we return to thinking about Messmer's art practice from the point of view of more local concerns, her works appear to be about what we all desire the most in Arizona from a pool, which is a sense of reprieve and refuge. And Messmer's pieces achieve this by offering us something like the image of a primal fantasy space, part abyss, part secluded underwater cavern, and part document of lost days and partial objects... a true journey into the underworld of both the psyche and somatic sensing. As such, the imaginary space created by Messmer's underwater fissures are about being submerged in a process - a process that is seemingly metaphysical and existential - and could easily be seen to stand-in for the collective condition of what it means to make art in the desert.
After all, the pool in Arizona is both a place of solitude and friendship, a submerged space of connected silence and unlimited freedom, or of so many spontaneous permissions that happen while the lifeguard is off duty. A pool is also a place of low cost community fun, and in times of great heat and social pressures, it becomes a commune of sorts, a get away from the hectic pace of work-a-day life. One might even say that Messmer's thematic use of the pool in painting and in her latest installation both hint at another way of being, as pools often provide us with a kind of meditative experience. And as far as the collective unconscious of archaic humanity goes, the pool represents a kind of protected return to the womb, a lost symbol for the renewing waters of life, and in Messmer's images, the pool might even be seen as standing in for a confrontation with the darker side of what Jung called the shadow self, the deep unconscious, or the abyss of primordial desire.
Thus, we can say that Messmer works with a sense of pictorial punch that capitalizes on the haunting effects of a movie like "Creature from the Blue Lagoon" mixed with the psycho-sexual intimations of a French film like "The Pool", because she always appears to be challenging the stability of the subject, a subject which is often rendered in as abstract a manner as the water it swims in. In this way, Messmer provides us with pictures of anthropomorphic entities lost in an indefinitely extended space, mixing the tension of a good horror movie with a subtle touch of haptic seduction. Some of her figures even seem to be hovering beneath the surface, as if to avoid confrontation, or at the very least, there is a kind of hesitancy and knowing reserve to how their bodies are held in space. This is, after all, a wonderful rhetorical device for capturing and holding the viewers attention, namely, by creating a sense of suspense through suspended animation.
In this way, we can say that the subject is sublimated to the motif in Messmer's work and that this only further reflects some of the contradictory dualities of living poolside in Arizona, namely, that the pool is simultaneously a place of sensuality and timelessness, of athleticism and mysticism, of heavy bodies and momentary weightlessness. Capturing something of this dialectic play of opposites, Messmer's pool paintings have the ability to convey the experience of living in an eternal summer of mixed expectations, in a space that is a no place and an everyplace, but which still conveys a rather powerful sense of mythos nonetheless. If anything, it is a sense of the moment that Messmer captures quite admirable in paint, video or perhaps, any other medium she turns her hand to. But of course, here I am not just talking about Messmer being skillful painter, but the fact that she makes images that are greater than the sum of their parts, being composed of fragments of the body, a slightly warped sense of space and a myriad of other psychological dispositifs.
And while Messmer's most recent exhibition at Eye Lounge doesn't consist of any paintings at all, but only a layered dual channel video projection that makes the bodily interactions of patrons cast the same kinds of opaque shadows on the gallery walls that permeate Messmer's other works, we should still be somewhat reticent to say that we've left her paintings out of the 'picture' altogether. In fact there is perhaps a greater continuity between those works and this newest piece than had Messmer chosen to offer up another suite of painted images. If anything, Messmer is to be roundly applauded both for broadening the scope of her project and the choice of means employed to carry it off, which make for a wonderful fusion of form and content.
But while Messmer's work certainly relies on the use of accessible themes, where the adoption of video and installation serves her best is in that it allows Messmer to exhibit the shadow play of real people wading in and out of the main exhibition space, a strategy that makes one wonder if there is a not so subtle allusion to the idea that we are in a holding tank of some sort in the desert art scene, waiting to make a splash onto the pages of the art world the way Vegas did a decade ago, and maybe with Messmer's iconography leading the way. What better metaphor is there after all, than a pool of artists-in-waiting, in a gallery space that represents the valleys own artist-of-the-pool? And it goes without saying that Messmer has undoubtedly made another contribution to the 'talent pool' of aesthetic interventions in the Downtown art scene in the form of a substantial entre, however regional in its focus, into the paradigm of relational aesthetics.
And yet, having the chance to visit the installation of "Pool" at Eye Lounge makes one venture well beyond thinking about how pools bring strange playmates together for bathing and water sports to the degree that this public exhibition also seems to suggest thinking about Messmer's motives as representing something of a reversal in the politics of space, i.e., being an installation without any water in a state that installs water fountains everywhere. Has Messmer not actually denaturalized and aestheticized a common space of congress in order to underscore the constructed nature of other spaces of commercial repose? And are her paintings too, not a kind of comment on the feeling of otherness created by floating in a highly commodified space, one that is overdetermined by a free-floating system of valuation? And does all of the above not leave us with the sense of being in a nether-space of sorts, that is equal parts desert netherworld and swimming pool underworld, both of which combine to give us a sense of space elevated slightly beyond the concerns of the 'real world'? And is this because Messmer's latest work is aglow in a way that feels like a transcendental image of the heavens rather than the earth below, giving us a glimpse of how the artifice of digital video can act as a mediator between ethereal and material experience. There is no doubt that Messmer enjoys playing these contradictions off of one another, and knows that such oppositions mark this particular 'turn' in her work not only as a significant development, but also as a moment of genuine maturation.
Thus, we can say that if Hockney gave us the space of the pool as a place of delight and frivolity, and Fischl offered it to us as a situation beset by the strange refusal of enjoyment, than Messmer gives us the idea of the pool as a conceptual gesture which we are all invited to inhabit in our own way. As such, a gallery space filled with Messmer's work is a refuge all its own for those who love contemporary art. After all, a great work of art is not wholly unlike the kind of entertainment served up at a neighborhood pool party, where time seems to stop, the everyday rules of life don't apply, and the desire to stay a little while longer to enjoy the view is never absent. Of course, these are all qualities that Messmer's work brings to any exhibition space in spades.
But unlike so many paintings of pools in California, New York or England for that matter, Messmer's installation called "Pool" trades on the hope that the artistic pool in Arizona will always be a place where we are inviting more people to jump in, participate and promulgate. After all, Messmer is dedicated not just to making works that mesmerize us by transforming the pool into an otherworldly place, but her practice as an artist is a testament to inviting more people into the scene, to get in the pool and swim around a little bit, and to indulge in a heighten awareness of unknown possibilities. Thus, a show like "Pool", by being presented in the form of a multi-media installation, makes a claim on the viewers attention by not allowing anyone to just dip their feet in, but to know you're in the deep end from the moment you walk in the door. And best of all, that seems to be just how Messmer likes it, either dive-in and swim around a bit, or don't bother showing up to the "Pool" party.