Custom Made: David Rosetzky
Daniel Palmer

David Rosetzky’s video installations situate us in the personal lives of social ‘types’, staging disarmingly intimate and yet fundamentally ambiguous presentations of their personal style. In what might almost be read as a rejoinder to the insular potential of this project, Custom Made (2000) marks a shift of emphasis from the artifice of self-hood and self-conduct to the relations of the self with others. Relationships act here as the ground for an exploration of modern subjectivity as well as a clever vehicle for manipulating the jaded sensibility of regular visitors to art exhibitions.

Custom Made hardly seems to require an explanatory text. It works directly on our senses, making the task of the catalogue writer that much more redundant. Nevertheless – and in his work there is always a nevertheless – the work’s simplicity belies an elaborate creation. Inside a constructed wood-veneer corridor – evoking the conformist taste of ‘70s family rooms – two back-lit video projections present life-size, seated figures who, one after another, deliver self-conscious monologues about an unnamed yet clearly important person in their lives. As each figure dissolves, like an apparition, another appears beside them – resulting in an overlap that hints at mutual recognition. Seated opposite, also on the same wooden benches, we seem to be directly addressed by these virtual strangers. Their amplified voices, enveloping us from both sides, enhance their corporeal presence; and a simple musical refrain, which grows momentarily louder in the gaps between each of the confessions, functions as a precise existential motif.

At fifteen minutes length, the work’s rhythmic pace engenders a therapeutic effect. Implicitly positioned as a confidant – a counsellor, a priest, or friend – invited to bear silent witness to these testimonials, we experience the relief of the telling. Free to imagine the unseen subjects of their stories, who remain unidentified throughout, we project and quite possibly identify with the different experiences being related. Is that a girl’s mother who can’t understand that she likes plastic jewellery? Who is the ‘volcanic’ figure of a teenage boy’s pathos-filled account? We presume it is his father. But who is the enmity of that other man directed towards? The identity of ‘the bastard’ remains a mystery, but the emotion is juxtaposed and carried over to the more innocent games of a young girl who appears next. Others relate happier dependencies; an older woman describes the experience of overcoming her disappointment in an unreliable friend, and a young Japanese man simply struggles, perfectly eloquently, to find the right English words (‘She will come here, later’). In each case we are placed in a relation of empathy to these everyday relationships – all of which, whether they are model or defective, reveal the self’s vulnerability to others.

The figures perform their psychological dramas for the camera and our gaze. We know that we are collaborating in the staging of these epiphanies (whose mechanics are open to view). We can imagine the director’s interventionist role in the placement of glances, pauses and gestures. But just as it doesn’t matter that not all the performances are Oscar-worthy (playing oneself is surely a most difficult pose) – none of this lessens their affective power. Relationships are fundamentally uncanny, the work seems to say. This is contemporary social ‘realism’ – where experience harbours its own traumatic loss – figured here by a diverse array of uncomfortable and fragile bodies, whose fidgety hands haunt the screens.

Affirming a certain style of ‘hospitality’ to the other (we listen and negotiate the other within ourselves), Custom Made is a kind of homage to the survival of social bonds (such as love and friendship) in the context of the individual self-interest at the foundation of market economics, and the mobility that accompanies post-industrial society. Rather than parody or critique the banal confessionals and talking heads we’re used to from TV talkshows, soapies, and ads for pain killers, Rosetzky extracts and resingularises their ritualised and infantilised emotional power. In moving us through sexual, social and familial exchanges, the subject who says ‘I’ is cumulatively revealed to be a product of intense, ongoing and multiple self-other narrations. In the process – whether we leave with that ‘oceanic feeling’ of oneness Freud was so ready to dismiss, or even with a restored sense of finitude – Custom Made elicits a singular aesthetic response which is also an ethical relation to otherness.


Daniel Palmer is a Senior Lecturer in the Art Theory Program in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Monash University.


This essay was originally published in Custom Made, exhibition catalogue, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 2000. Reproduced with permission.