The Last Days of Disco: David Rosetzky’s Untouchable
Juliana Engberg

David Rosetzky’s early works flirted purposefully with the genre of portraiture. Using the medium of video as his modus operandi, Rosetzky dissolved the high and low aesthetics of painting and commercial photography to deliver a visual re-mix that announced ‘now’. In the early works, the beautiful and feckless were displayed in iconic mode against monochrome backgrounds – like Bronzino’s pure and vivid Medicis, Whistler’s aesthetic dandies, Warhol’s Elvis, Jenny Watson’s John Nixon, or Thomas Struth’s staring youths: and, like any Mooks ad mod.

As with the best portraiture, Rosetzky’s smart, delineated videos presented both a synthetic of the individual, and an image of their cultural milieu. Rosetzky identified his subjects and their time as cool, disaffected, existential, yet paradoxically libidinous. Rosetzky, it could be claimed, while capturing a provocative sexual androgyny, identified the aesthetic of the ‘metrosexual’ before it became tabloid-speak. In these works, subjects were individuated, yet accumulated into the community of sameness.

In the ascendancy of video as art, not all, but a large number of artists re-engaged the portrait in their search of a subject for moving-image picturing. Most opted for a form of doco–interview–observation style film-making: a vérité slice of life. Rosetzky by contrast, opted for a highly mannered, stylised form of presentation. Pace was slow, action inert, mood was artificial – artifice was affirmed.

Rosetzky has carried this mannered distillation of our times into his more recent work. These works move beyond the single portrait to extend the artist’s observation of our modern times. Gradually Rosetzky has added domestic texture to his works. Interiors have become dramatic players in mini-dramas between individuals. The once blank, open-ended terrain of the add-what-you-will, Popist monochrome has been overtaken by spaces of claustrophobic intensity. This was first seen to significant effect in Custom Made (2000) where alienation was accorded more substance, as we witnessed the subjects’ tentative attempts to communicate between themselves and to the voyeur audience.

Although Rosetzky had used structures before, Custom Made indicated an architecture that was socially inclusive of audience and socially restrictive of subjects. More than inclusive, the audience was also tightly confined by their proximity to the awkward and sometimes difficult confessions of these actors portraying our current condition.

Untouchable (2003) is the most recent of Rosetzky’s structural video works. It presents three double-portrait vignettes that illustrate, as the title suggests, forlorn representations of emotional miscommunication. A heterosexual couple, a same-sex couple, and a mother and child deliver identical monologues to one another – the common complaints of unrequited love, alienation and modernity. These poses of disaffection are generic to the general ennui of modernity’s languor, yet specific enough, despite their repetition, to involve our interest. They speak our language of disappointment.

Rosetzky has become a complicated commentator on the modern malaise. His platform of ‘rooms’ insinuates the growing urban architecture of apartment isolation. His knowing use of the painted interior drama genre as a form of artistic relic or curiosity is implied, but also extended beyond the pensive Parisian Haussmann era into the world of Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Rosetzky has captured his human specimens inside the display unit of cultural observation. He makes reference to the museological arrangement as well as the salonesque. Referencing the completely contemporary, Rosetzky also insinuates the bell jar culture of ‘reality TV’, the banality of Big Brother and its ilk, and the vapidity of the fleeting emotions contained within these staged social scenarios. Again, Rosetzky requires his viewer to sit in intense proximity to his players. As viewers we become engrossed in this intense, claustrophobic melancholy.

Quite unexpectedly we are offered a sense of release through music and dancing performed by the actors – manoeuvres on the dance floor. Rosetzky reminds us of his earlier, groovy works where sexual swaying offered the possibility of lust, love, and life. In Untouchable however, this momentary musical interlude seems imbued with a kind of nostalgia. Perhaps we are watching, once again, the last days of disco, while the beat goes on.


Juliana Engberg is Artistic Director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.


This article was originally published in 2004 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Contemporary Photo-media, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2004. Reproduced with permission.