Unreal Nature

April 1, 2015

The Original

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… what we see precisely — very precisely indeed — is only the failure, the near-miss by comparison to the original which, through this difference, is affirmed as the original.

This is from the essay, ‘Cindy Sherman. Woman as Image: The Artist is Present?’ by Barbara Vinken found in Cindy Sherman edited by Ingvild Goetz and Karsten Lockermann (2015):

… Her genius lies in her representation of a certain ‘incapacity’ — namely, the incapacity of portraying her ‘self’ in a way that generates an image of woman, or woman-as-image. Sherman does not create images of women that are whole, beautiful and desirable, fascinating, full of natural vitality and eternal youth, unscathed by the traces of time. It is not the intangibility of the self that is at the core of her work — a self playing with illusions on the surface, a self leading parallel lives, either in denial or in recognition of that self. The focus is not on metamorphotic power. Nor does it seem to me to be about parodying images of femininity in the media, or an attempt at creating a series of self-portraits in search of identity. Rather, it is about addressing the symptom. The symptom is the woman-as-image which distorts the split within the subject; subjectivity divided.

Sherman’s photos imitate and restage images of women with a twist; images of beautiful, glamorous, desirable women — women as they have been illustrated in film, television and glossy magazines since the 1960s, produced en masse as icons of modernism: the image of woman, the woman-as-image. The images of women-staged by Sherman not only possess a historical index, as any image does, but they depict that historical index with painstaking precision. What is presented is not the eternal feminine, but the aesthetic norms and ideals of a certain class in a certain land at a certain time.

Sherman_Number15
Untitled #15 [from the film stills series: not shown in this book]

… What is exhibited, captured and staged in these pictures is the strenuous effort leading, at best, to a near miss, and, at worst, to awkward failure. Her place is a non-place: the difference between the ideal as image, the stereotype that shimmers through in the photographs and the figure in the photo that embodies that stereotype yet narrowly misses the mark with its idiosyncratically off-beat embodiment.

… ‘Cindy Sherman’ is the paradoxical name that does not describe the gap bridged, but which describes the split, the division, the non-identity.

… If she can only appear as an object of desire, her only desire can consequently be to become an object of desire. The fact that this object is fashioned by her cannot be made manifest without destroying the intended effect.

… It is not her success but her failure that Sherman highlights, which, of course, does not mean that the real Cindy Sherman is to be found behind every would-be Marilyn Monroe. The simple fact that a woman might project an image of herself without seeking to seduce as an image of womanhood, unsettled the world of men, for all their admiration, and continues to do so today: “Paradoxically, the very artist who is famous for being her own model does not appear to have toyed for even one moment of her history with the notion that someone should fall in love with her. She is liberated from such desirability. That is Sherman’s achievement, and one that sets her apart from almost the entire rest of the media world.”

… What they exhibit with such remarkable skill and what they so masterfully represent is the near-success and the narrow miss. What shimmers through is the difference between ideal and reality, between original and copy.

In the photograph, what we see precisely — very precisely indeed — is only the failure, the near-miss by comparison to the original which, through this difference, is affirmed as the original.

sherman_Number361
Untitled #361, (2000)

… The modern author is constituted by the act of creating the woman as an image, whilst de-authoring this image as an illusion, and ‘unwriting’ the image. Sherman achieves this disintegration of woman-as-image by means of her own body, by means of her own individual and unforgettable traits, which thereby become a speaking mask — a presopopoeia of embodied difference. In this, she goes beyond the classic function of the author, which remains in limbo between reality and illusion. Or rather: she erodes it. And in doing so, she succeeds in shifting the position of modern authorship into an unprecedented radicality.

-Julie

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