artists & participants
The Angle of Repose Lorie Mertes
IN REPOSE, drawn from the collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl, features women artists whose work in photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound boldly explores femininity, identity, and sexuality. The exhibition includes iconic figures, such as Janine Antoni, Catherine Opie, Pipilotti Rist, Carolee Schneemann, and Cindy Sherman, whose photography, film, and performance work from the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s represents the historical context for much of the art in the exhibition. Also included are members of the current generation of artists, such as Tanyth Berkeley, Rineke Dijkstra, Trisha Donnelly, Naomi Fisher, Jenny Gage, Anna Gaskell, Kim Gordon, Katy Grannan, Mariko Mori, Melanie Schiff, Meredyth Sparks, Helen Van Meene, and Bettina Von Zwehl, most of whom use traditional genres of self-portraiture, portraiture, narrative, and landscape to probe definitions of beauty, celebrity, and notions of identity and its relation to the uncertain territory between adolescence and adulthood. Although few of the subjects portrayed in the works are in a literal state of being "in repose," many are captured at a poignant moment of transformation: physical and emotional transformation, the process of surrendering one identity and defining oneself anew, and the moment of rest between being and becoming.
Beauty's where you find it. . . . — Madonna, lyrics from "Vogue"1
Using her own body as object, Janine Antoni's iconic process/performance works of the 1990s (from painting the floor of the galleries with her hair dipped in hair dye to licking and lathering busts made in her own image) dissect the many compulsive processes associated with femininity. Ingrown is also about society's obsession with beauty and body image. In a photograph depicting the artist's hands bound by long, red fingernails, the supposedly sexy manicured nails have gone beyond being the impractical things they are to being the cause of the woman's (and the artist's) impotence.
Tanyth Berkeley's portraits are mostly of strangers she's met on the streets and in the subways of New York whose looks are eccentric or startling in their "differences." White-on-white skin and hair, misaligned eyes, bulbous noses, and full cheeks, through Berkeley's lens, embody the mysteriousness, glamour, and regality of images of Hollywood screen sirens from the 1940s. The subject in Grace in Window exudes an undeniable allure that forces us to evaluate our definitions of beauty.
Young men and women entering the military, club kids just off the dance floor, preadolescent youths on the beach or on the edge of a forest—all have been subjects in Rineke Dijkstra's portraits. These images capture the psychological intensity of a moment that hovers somewhere between a self-conscious pose and a natural unguarded state. The young girl's balled fists and a slight lean forward in Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany, June 27, 1999 betray coiled energy simmering beneath the surface. While she seems eager to leap into whatever comes next, her curled toes root her in place, symbolically capturing the uneasy passage between childhood and adulthood. In Self-Portrait, Marnixbad, Amsterdam, NL, June 19, 1991, Dijkstra photographs herself in the process of recovery from a car accident. Standing awkwardly in a bathing suit, dripping wet after having just emerged from the pool, she partially covers her face in a gesture of youthful innocence capturing the vulnerability of a psyche and body in the process of rehabilitation.
Transience and resistance are themes that pervade Trisha Donnelly's work, which can take any form—installation, video, sound, photographs, drawing, language, and/or performance. Each piece has a mysteriousness that, haiku-like, conveys everything and nothing. Like the artist herself, Donnelly's works are ephemeral, existing in a fleeting moment of transcendence: intermittent cries of a howling wolf followed by the artist's own baying punctuate the gallery with unsettling effect; a natural pine bough hangs across the lintel in the shape of a T, temporarily branding the space with Trisha's mark.
Naomi Fisher's psychologically and sexually charged scenes set in a lush tropical landscape appear to depict victims of violence or rape (not unlike Marcel Duchamp's Étant Donnés, a highly charged work permanently installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). The actions staged and photographed by Fisher force an unnatural relationship between the land and young, fashionable women. Having grown up in a modern society, they have no true knowledge of the natural world, which, for the most part, exists only in simulated, controlled, or quarantined environments. Fisher equates violations against nature with violations against women, both victims at the hand of man.
Jenny Gage produces photographic series focusing on a female subject whom she finds, follows, and photographs to create loose narratives that are part autobiography, part fantasy. In each, the heroine seems desperate and doomed to suffer some unknown fate, as each sequential image vaguely suggests that something bad has just happened or is about to happen. Gage reveals in these isolated tales what she calls the "beautiful ugliness" of a broken woman.
Fair Ophelia. . . . Most beautified Ophelia. . . . Pretty Ophelia. . . . Sweet Ophelia. . . . Dear Ophelia. . . . Beautiful Ophelia . . . sweet maid . . . poor wretch. . . . Poor Ophelia. . . . — William Shakespeare, referencing the character of Ophelia in Hamlet2
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, about a young girl struggling with the transformation from adolescence to adulthood, is the inspiration for Anna Gaskell's Wonder series. In the book, Alice is portrayed as an idle, undisciplined child who has to face a tyrannical, aging Queen in order to learn the difference between rules and mercy, wisdom and nonsense. Like Alice, the girls starring in Gaskell's cinematic scenes appear to be up to trouble and involved in mysterious acts. You can't quite discern what's going on, but the girls' forays into a Gothic, fairy-tale world seem fraught with a sense of urgency and peril. In Floater, Gaskell references another tragic teen of literature, Shakespeare's Ophelia, a young girl who suffers over wanting to obey her father versus giving in to her heart's desire. Ultimately her suffering drives her to a tragic end. The girl in Gaskell's video seems to have met the same watery end. An apparently lifeless body floats face down in a video projected onto the floor of the gallery. Buoyed by the movement of the water, the body flips over and appears to be rising to the surface. Walking around the water's edge, the viewer helplessly watches, waiting for her to gasp for air.
The only rule is don't be boring and dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in. — Paris Hilton3
Paris Hilton is famous for being famous. Her image is ubiquitous and, for many young women, synonymous with aspirations of ideal beauty and lifestyle. Kim Gordon's Desiring Machines (Big Paris) is a life-sized image of the heiress that recalls the door-sized posters of movie stars and teenage heartthrobs folded into the pages of Tiger Beat magazine. Hilton's become that big. Enough said.
Katy Grannan's subjects are strangers she meets while traveling or who answer "model wanted" ads she places in local newspapers. The generosity with which the sitters give themselves over to the lens of a stranger reveals their intimate process of self-discovery and a desire to be portrayed as some idealized beautiful, successful, desirable version of themselves. The results are striking, formal portraits reflecting the focused intensity of the brief encounter between the model and the artist.
Miko no Inori is a mesmerizing video starring the artist Mariko Mori in a Japanese anime-style futuristic fantasy set to a trancelike ambient soundtrack. Mori, in a silver wig, vinyl body suit, and shiny pillow-like wings, entrances the viewer with her glowing eyes and the suggestive movements she makes with a crystal ball. Mori's many characters are a fusion of art, technology, and spirituality designed to explore the hybrid nature of identity in an increasingly virtual world where private fantasies and global culture merge.
Catherine Opie, in the tradition of documentary photography, focuses her lens on the world and people around her, as well as on her own image, to address issues of gender and sexual identity, notions of community, and the myth of the American dream. Self-Portrait shows Opie facing away from the camera. Carved into her bare back is a stick-figure drawing of two women holding hands in front of a house. The scene is idyllic: the girls are smiling, the sun is shining, and birds fly overhead. But this is belied by Opie's skin, red and inflamed, with blood dripping from the fresh incisions, indicating how the artist suffers for her vision and for her own identity as a gay woman.
MTV had been on the air for five years when Pipilotti Rist made her parodic music video, I'm Not the Girl Who Misses Much, in 1986. In it Rist, in a breast-baring black dress, red lips, and teased hair, dances wildly before the camera singing, "I'm not the girl who misses much do, do, do, do, do. . . ." Shot with frenetic camera movements, the images are shaky and blurry. The sound has been tweaked so that for most of the video Rist's voice is distorted to an ultra-high, ultra-annoying pitch. The poor film quality and sound only enhance and emphasize the image of Rist as a supercharged, oversexed dancing doll. The words in the video are adapted from "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" by the Beatles. John Lennon's original version plays briefly, soothingly, near the end. I'm Not the Girl Who Misses Much is one of Rist's best-known pioneering video works. Paying homage to early video and performance art, she melds pop culture references to comment on the extremes to which women go to satisfy the male gaze. It feels oddly prescient some twenty-one years later, as music videos offer up an even wilder parade of nearly naked gyrating women.
I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir, because I'm not myself, you see. — Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland4
Melanie Schiff constructs false worlds and photographs them to capture a blissful state of youthful freedom. The gestures are spare yet all telling. In Neil Young, Neil Young, the artist holds a Neil Young album in front of her face, seamlessly blending the landscape on the cover with the real woods in the background. The artist and Young's hair and shoulders line up too, making them appear to be blended into one. These images reveal poignant moments of self-discovery and a temporary state of perfection despite teenage self-destructive tendencies to get lost in drugs, alcohol, and rock and roll.
In the 1960s, films and videos by pioneering performance and multidisciplinary artist Carolee Schneemann redefined notions of the erotic, female sexuality, gender, identity, and the social construction of the female body. In her highly controversial Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions series from 1963, Schneemann uses props and her own body to explore the role of women in art making and the cultural biases of art history. Her full-frontal photograph of two snakes writhing across her naked torso reveals how the female image is eroticized across cultures and time as we summon images of a Minoan Snake Goddess, the myth of Medusa, or a Voodoo priestess from a James Bond movie. Knowing the power of the female body to draw the male gaze, Schneeman directly confronts the male-dominated art world of the 1960s by using the perfect, unignorable canvas for her Abstract Expressionist– and Surrealist-inspired works.
Along with our parents, the mass media raised us, socialized us, entertained us, comforted us, deceived us, disciplined us, told us what we could do and told us what we couldn't. And they played a key role in turning each of us into not one woman, but many women— a pastiche of all the good women and bad women that came to us through the printing presses, projectors and airwaves of America. This has been one of the mass media's most important legacies for female consciousness: the erosion of anything resembling a unified self. — Susan J. Douglas, in Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media5
Starting with her seminal Untitled Film Still series from the late 1970s, Cindy Sherman has imitated and confronted stereotypes of women found throughout visual culture, mining mass media, popular culture, art history, and fairy tales for inspiration. Photographing herself in elaborate wardrobes, prostheses, and makeup, Sherman assumes the visual attributes of feminine stereotypes to represent the schizophrenic nature of female identity and the multitude of roles that women assume. Untitled #132 is from a series commissioned by French Vogue in the 1980s featuring clothing by prominent designers. We see a badly aging woman posed under unflattering light whose looks and Miller High Life lifestyle tell us she's no fashion model. Despite being obviously uncomfortable and ridiculously attired, she's feigning fabulous. Sherman's fashion victim has succumbed to the allure and promise of high fashion, where beautiful, thin young women and carefully staged photographs make us desire the absurd.
Meredyth Sparks deconstructs, manipulates, and reconfigures iconic images of pop music celebrities to make her large-scale collages. Like a DJ sampling and mixing, Sparks adds glitter, aluminum foil, and other stuff so that what was old becomes shiny and new—and more than a little different from the original source material. Mostly depicting artists who in their early careers drew some level of controversy, her images have included Debbie Harry, the Rolling Stones, the Ramones, and David Bowie. In the work commissioned by the Scholls especially for the exhibition, Sparks references the cover art on Roxy Music's 1974 album, Country Life. The cover, featuring a photograph of two scantily clad models whom lead singer Bryan Ferry met in Portugal, was censored in a number of countries. As a result, several tamed covers were released, including a shrink-wrapped version and one that cropped out the women entirely, leaving only the wooded background. Sparks draws on this rich history of image manipulation in her rigorously formal yet dazzling visual and conceptual recontextualization of the original image. (Ferry, a student and protégé of pop artist Richard Hamilton before his singing career, must appreciate the irony.)
Every detail in Helen van Meene's images of adolescents is carefully constructed: from the lighting, color, and texture to the highly choreographed compositions, wardrobes, and props. The process is more closely tied to still life than to portraiture, with van Meene directing every movement. The girls avert or close their eyes to further stage an unguarded moment and remove any sense of engagement with the camera. Photographed so that their bodies are honestly recorded, imperfections, baby fat, and all, they become studies in youth's transience. The space between lingering childhood and nascent adulthood is underscored by the tension van Meene creates with her artfully arranged images of reality.
To create her unnerving portraits, Bettina von Zwehl photographs her subjects in moments of vulnerability: after waking up, holding their breath, standing in the rain, listening to music in a dark room. The physically extreme or bizarre conditions she imposes upon her sitters captures them at the threshold of their private, inner world and the donning of their public persona. The spare compositions and stark lighting forces us to focus on the details in each: freckles, blemishes, flushed cheeks, red noses, tired eyes, wrinkles, and disheveled hair.
1. Madonna and Shep Pettibone, "Vogue," track 12 of I'm Breathless, audio CD (London: Sire Records, 1990). 2. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. G. R. Hibbard (Oxford: Oxford University, 1998). 3. Paris Hilton and Merle Ginsberg, Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose (New York: Fireside, 2004), p. 53. 4. Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (London: Macmillan, 1898), p. 46. 5. Susan J. Douglas, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media (New York: Times Books, 1995), p. 13.
only in german
mit Janine Antoni, Catherine Opie, Pipilotti Rist, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Tanyth Berkeley, Rineke Dijkstra, Trisha Donnelly, Naomi Fisher, Jenny Gage, Anna Gaskell, Kim Gordon, Katy Grannan, Mariko Mori, Melanie Schiff, Meredyth Sparks, Hellen van Meene, Bettina von Zwehl ...