The Queer Art of Failure
Chapter Three
Judith Halberstam
Duke University Press

The Following is an excerpt from chapter three

Monica Majoli, a contemporary queer artist based in Los Angeles, picks up the theme of darkness in her work. Majoli takes photographs of her ex- lovers as they appear in a black mirror and then paints from the photographs of the mirror images. Impossibly dark and impenetrable, and brimming with melancholy, these portraits defy the definition of mirror, of portrait, and even of love. A mirror image of course is first of all a self-portrait, and so the images must be read as both a representation of the artist herself and depictions of love affairs and their aftermath. In most of the portraits Majoli pairs a drawing or painting of a pairs with an abstract version, calling attention to the murkiness of all oppositions in a darkened mirror space. While a conventional painting might depend upon some kind of relation between the figure and the ground, in these portraits the background fills out the figure with emotional intensity, with darkness, and asks us to look hard at interiority itself. The abstract versions are no harder or easier to read or to look at than the figures, reminding us that the figures are also abstractions and that the shape of a head or the outline of a breast guarantees nothing in terms o! a human presence or connection or intimacy. The portraits are painfully intimate and at the same time refuse intimacy. All attempts to look closer, to make out features, to understand the trajectory of a line end in the same boiling darkness, a black that is not flat because it is a mirrored surface and a mirror that is not deep because it
sucks up the light from the image.

The portraits are made after the love affair has ended and represent what we think of as failure—the failure of love to last, the mortality of all connection, the Fleeting nature of desire. Obviously desire is present in the very gesture of painting, and yet desire here, like the black mirror, devours rather than generates, obliterates rather than enlightens. Majoli’s paintings are technically very difficult (how to sculpt a figure out of darkness, how to draw in the dark, to refect the emotional and affective issues) but also emotionally wrought (how to narrate the relationship that ends, how to face the end o! desire, how to look at one’s own failures, mortality, and limitations). She holds up a dark mirror to the viewer and insists that he or she look into the void. Hearkening back to a history of representations of homosexuality as loss and death from Proust to Radclyffe Hall, Majoli’s paintings converse with the tradition of imaging begun by Brassai and extended by Arbus.