Primal pools

The truth won’t ever go away. Repress it, compress it, strain to contain it — as Neil Young once sang, "Sooner or later, it all gets real." If you make art, you cultivate obsessions (ideas that won’t go away) tenderly, like plots in a garden of the unconscious, and bask in the resurgence of whatever feeds your needs.

Recent Center for Creative Studies graduate Carla Licavoli, 25, has let her compulsions start to flow, taking up again what amounts to a 13-year-old project in her photographs of female figures semisubmerged in water. These unabashedly sensual beings are clearly autoerotic in their satisfaction. And they exude a strong aura of the imaginary hooked into personal truth.

When Licavoli was 12 years old, she saved up $79 from babysitting and bought herself a Minolta 110 underwater camera. Why underwater? She doesn’t really know. "It just caught my eye."

Soon she was taking shots of her younger sisters and herself in the bathtub or in a 3-foot kiddie pool with a tiny slide. But by the time she entered high school, her interest in cameras and liquids had receded like a lost continent, not to surface again until her third semester at Central Michigan University, where she majored in biology.

Licavoli reconnected to her truth in a photo class that she took as an adjunct to scientific research, eventually meeting CCS photography head Doug Aikenhead who was a visiting artist at CMU. After recognizing Licavoli’s ability and natural eye, Aikenhead made her a present of one of his cameras — on condition that she apply to CCS as soon as possible. And four years later, this past May, she hung her graduation show as part of the annual CCS student exhibition.

In her recent work, Licavoli follows the stream of her unconscious into feelings about water and the female body that also recur in dreams that she records in her journal:

from Dream 2:
When she sleeps her dreams turn into oceans. The waves carry her fears back & forth. But she sees them as she floats away. And she is cleansed. My tired eyes look for that ocean. Heavy with the salt. Waves beating on my temples. The insomnia dehydrates me. The deep blue calling, but I can’t find it…

In these large black-and-white prints filled with the motion of waves, the bodies or faces of floating women have a peaceful, carefree presence only disturbed — if one can call it that — by their enjoyment of themselves and their proximity to each other.

Working alternately with a small in-studio tank or a large outdoor pool, Licavoli has organized shoots with single models, couples and, ambitiously, a current project involving five members of a Detroit rock band — all partially submerged in water.

As she leaves Detroit this week for a stint as assistant photographer in a fashion studio in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, Licavoli takes with her a surprisingly mature vision of her own, one that confronts head-on the flood of her memories and desires.

George Tysh is Metro Times' arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected]
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