David Lamelas, Rock Star (character appropriation), 1974 (Detail)


One of the best opening paragraphs I know is found in Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo. The novel meditates on a certain type of fame distinct from that enjoyed by either statesmen or kings.

No, this type of fame, “a devouring neon”, involves: “Hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs.” Yes, it is a book about a rock star.

Artist David Lamelas would surely recognise this checklist. It is all there in this work in which he appropriated the spotlight from a field of endeavour completely different to the visual arts.

The Argentine sculptor has dressed down for his role, borrowed a guitar and stolen the stage from an act like the Doors or Creedence Clearwater Revival, certainly something rootsy or bluesy.

In other words he attempts something authentic, because rock is obsessed with this quality. Its stars are queuing up to prove their convictions with overdoses, dependency issues and disappearances.

Lamelas makes a series of these photos, which serve as a record of a performative frenzy that never was. He pulls it off without having to compose, to practice, to endure life on the road.

“If the purpose of the photographs was to explore an element of fantasy, they were a triumph. Although his rock star was a cliché, he was totally convincing,” writes Stuart Morgan in Frieze.

But the results work on the viewer in a strange kind of silence. They cast us as fans, and extrapolate us as if we were in the pit of an auditorium, shoulder to shoulder, with hundreds.

Cue difference between rock and art, between the sharing of a ritual and the private consumption of a thing of beauty. Rock Star harks back to a neolithic time when no distinction could be made.

There’s a big trade in photos like this of real musicians. They adorn the walls of well-to-do fans who have outgrown their student posters. Why not? It’s an aesthetic choice you can’t argue with.

Yet with sculptural rigour, Lamelas has distilled a whole genre of music to a partially seen figure in the darkness with two props and a glaring light. Like Brancusi, he gives us the essential.

The entire Rock Star series can be seen in Glam! Performance of Style at Tate Liverpool until 12 May 2013. See gallery website for more details and read the words of a completely inimitable rock star from the Glam era: Noddy Holder from Slade, interviewed by the Guardian.

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