Comments/Context: At first glance, it might be tempting to label the photographic self-portraits of the performance artist Narcissister as contemporary derivatives of Cindy Sherman and dismiss them outright without much consideration. And while the kinship with Sherman's work is undeniable (particularly the challenging late 1980s/early 1990s work which was largely left out of the recent touring retrospective), I found Narcissister's parade of thrown together personas to be authentically creepy, beginning with a playful campy lightness, and with further looking, slowly becoming quietly pathetic and disturbing. It may seem like we've seen this work before, but I think there's a nugget of something new here worth exploring.
All of Narcissister's self-portraits feature the blocking mechanism of a facial mask, in this case a Barbie-style, flat-eyed painted plastic face, often broken, roughly cut in half, or taped together along scarred edges. The obscuring effect is straightforward (we can't see who she really is), but somehow the glamorous mannequin mask ends up being off-putting, the sitters trying so hard to be perfect but ultimately failing. Her characters are all exercises in personal exaggeration (the overbig afro, the gaudy pink nails, the matchy matchy hat and dress, the enormous fake breasts, the platinum blonde wig, the big gold earrings), and her backgrounds are rumpled and makeshift, as though the studio was a thrown together afterthought. The whole set-up flows neatly into the obsessive, distracted world of narcissism, of self-interest taken to extremes and of excessiveness that turns into something a bit ugly. The two sculptures allow the viewer to fleetingly peer into this world, to see out through the eyes of the Narcissiter masks - and yes, that's me in the bottom image, sporting an enticingly grotesque new look.
In the end, I liked the balance between hiding and revealing in these pictures and the undercurrent of broken desperation that palpably flows from each constructed character. While photography may not be Narcissister's primary artistic mode, each of her personas arrives with a subtle jolt: flashy, eye catching, and unexpectedly emotionally layered.
Narcissister, Narcissister is You
Through February 10th