Monday, 7 May 2012

Manipulating Identity | Art Portfolio | Bon Int No.21

The Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Bon International includes a very special Art Portfolio concentrating on artists who manipulate the many facets of identity whether it be of people or a place. I was lucky enough to speak to them ahead of major exhibitions and projects occurring over the summer of 2012 and have included excerpts below.

Cindy Sherman  
Will the real Cindy Sherman please stand up? Unfortunately we might be waiting a long time, as it’s a misapprehension that Sherman’s practice examines her own identity. Quite on the contrary, even though she is model and artist, ‘Cindy Sherman’ is anonymous in her photographs that reveal the projected, constructed and preconceived ideas of contemporary identity from the past 30-plus years of her career. She has seamlessly morphed into various persona’s – of which there are innumerable - embodying actresses in her early black and white film still series, sinister clowns, and gaudy socialites in her more recent work. Eva Respini, the curator of Sherman’s forthcoming retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York, discloses what to expect from arts great persuader.  

Bon: What do you think Cindy Sherman's work shows us (a 21st Century society) about our perception of female identity?  
Eva Respini: Sherman creates invented personas that examine the construction of identity, the nature of representation, and the artifice of photography. More than ever, identity is malleable and fluid, and Sherman’s work confirms this, revealing and critiquing the artifice of identity and how photography is complicit in its making.  Sherman’s pictures also tell us something about photography: its ability to lie, masks, and seduce. Photography is particularly suited to the synthesis of the real and the imagined, and Sherman has brilliantly exploited the medium’s plasticity and narrative capacity in her analysis of female identity.   

Cindy Sherman at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art until 14 July – 7 October 2012 

Willem Jaspert
London-based photographer, Willem Jaspert, may be known for his fashion shoots and assisting the likes of Corinne Day and John Akehurst but his recent exhibition, Eight Houses, Bay of Pigs at b Store, London shed an artistic light on his practice. The arrestingly resonant images portray the infamous area of Cuba through its domestic architecture. Fascinated by the habitats of individuals, for his latest project, Jaspert captures the essence of the Czech Republic. Armed with a 1968 Rolliflex he bought from a retired photo-journalist, the camera enhances the images with a poignant revelation, he explains, “It’s a happy coincidence that the camera is from the year of the Prague Uprising but one that I quite like!” Exclusively for Bon, he presents previously unseen work from an ongoing untitled project and the portrait of Hlinsko.  

Bon: Why did you want to focus on capturing the personal identity of Hlinsko, Czech Republic? 
WJ: My wife was born in Hlinsko but has lived all her adult life in London. The Czech Republic has gone through major political and social changes in her time and different generations have lived extremely different experiences. As a small town in the centre of the country, Hlinsko represents to me an ' average town' and therefore seemed like the perfect place to focus on capturing notions of identity of ordinary people living there. 

The New York-based, Yale graduate is best known for her distinctive paintings of African American women set against the backdrop of collaged interiors. A recurrent sitter has been her mother since a photography class at Yale in 2001 and the electric décor are evocative of her childhood, “I use pattern to create rhythm and dissonance in the work as well as to reference an array of influences and sources.  Originally, I was thinking of the domestic spaces from my childhood with their recovered furniture, clashing patterns and wood paneling.” Thomas divulges ahead of her forthcoming solo exhibition in Santa Monica. Her practice questions our perception of the female role by challenging the traditions of portrait painting. Reconfiguring techniques from her portraits, her latest paintings construct interior and exterior landscapes in relation to the female form.   

Bon: Can you elaborate on the use of additional material within your paintings? -Where do you draw inspiration for the fabrics and jewels? 
MK: My early paintings and drawings were heavily influenced by Aboriginal and Impressionist Art. I was obsessed with pointillism and started making aerial views of landscapes with a Seurat technique. Since undergrad I always used untraditional materials in my work, from found objects to glitter. Once I started graduate school I continued to use glitter but wanted to work with a material that closely represented pointillism. So I started to experiment with rhinestones to make images. Over time, the rhinestone’s meaning has shifted. I started to relate them to ideals of beauty and how we present ourselves in the world; what it means to cover up or enhance our beauty to be noticed I'm interested in how we are in a constant state of transformation with our physical selves. I'm always inspired and challenged by the perception of what is real and not real.

Mickalene Thomas: The Origin of the Universe at Santa Monica Museum of Art until 19 August 2012 

The Finnish artist, Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s films quiver between real life and invented stories.  Her captivating creations question the constructed roles we play, the constructed realities we live by, and the relationships we have with others as well as ourselves. The medium of film allows her to explore these elements with its self-referential construct to record the truth that can ultimately be manipulated. Ahtila explains, “The moving image has become the main medium to present the reality around us. The film equipment is been built and seen as an extension to human perception. I think it is important to remember its artificial nature and develop the ways we choose to see our surroundings and things taking place in it.” Taking time out ahead of her forthcoming touring exhibition, the Vincent Award and Artes Mundi Prize winner talks about her work.  

Bon: What is it about societies and individuals identity you want to expose in your work? 
E-LA: This has changed over the years. Earlier on I was interested in human relationships - love relations, relations between family members, the experience of loss and death. I guess all in all the emphasis was more on the individual and psychological identities.  The more recent works deal with issues defining our societies - colonialism, understanding the other, how to approach something different. I’m also trying to find out something about the relation between perception and knowledge - how we see things and what we see and how we choose to recognize something and judge other things being irrelevant. This has also links to the questions of the meaning of the nature and animals in the world defined by humans. 

Eija-Liisa Ahtila: Parallel Worlds tours to Carré d'Art, Nimes, France.