Unreal Nature

April 22, 2015

What Makes Them Fictional?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… Removing the mask again does not help, because [one now] knows that transformation is possible, and that at any time you could turn into someone quite different …

This is from the essay ‘The Pig-Human’ by Karl Ove Knausgård found in Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors (2013):

Untitled #140, 1985

… This feeling of being very close to something is paradoxical and should actually be impossible, because the pig’s snout is obviously a mask; the joints between the mask and the face wearing it are lucid, and in addition, most people who look at this photograph will be familiar with Sherman’s other works, and know that she never uses any models other than herself in her pictures.

So what we see is a photographic fiction that can easily be revealed — Cindy Sherman disguised as a pig-human — but nevertheless the unease and the fascination remain. It is impossible to defend yourself against them, because, like the fiction of a novel, it is not the reality of the story that affects us but the reality of the feelings it arouses.

Untitled #150, 1985

… a woman stands in the foreground sticking out a tongue that is grotesquely large in relation to her mouth. Her face is covered in beads of sweat; she is looking upward and her irises and pupils are situated in the left-hand corner of her eyes. Below her is an area with a number of tiny people moving across it, and we realize that the woman is towering above them, and must therefore be a giantess. In this image there is no attempt at all to maintain the illusion of reality; the miniature people in the background are obviously toy figures made of plastic.

It is a game: an adult dressing up like a monster, with the help of simple items like masks and toy figures, and then taking a picture. Transformation, which has always been Sherman’s theme, is intrinsically instrumental and horizontal. It takes place on the surface, yet it always has an inherent depth as well, something vague and imprecise that appears during the transition. One thing becomes another, and when the other is an animal or a non-human, the depth becomes unfathomable. If you turn away from a small child, put on a mask and turn around again, the child becomes terrified. Removing the mask again does not help, because now the child knows that transformation is possible, and that at any time you could turn into someone quite different, a stranger, something non-human.

… Right from her breakthrough with Untitled Film Stills, a series of over eighty photographs from 1977 to 1980, Sherman’s theme has been the visible element of identity, its surface. The film stills resemble one another. They all represent a single woman in a room or in a place where no one else is present, caught in the middle of a scenario, which seems to be hinted at by her pose and a few props. Nevertheless, they are distinctly different. The woman has dark hair, blond hair, long hair, short hair; she is dressed in a skirt, trousers, dress panties, blouse, T-shirt, shirt, coat, sweater, pajamas, swimsuit; she wears a hat, sunglasses, glasses, a diving mask, shoes with low heels, high heels, pumps, slippers; she is smoking, resting, weeping, in a kitchen, on a veranda, in front of a bathroom mirror, on a sandy plain, in a garden, in front of a church, outside a railroad station, in a doorway, in front of a skyscraper, in a bed, in a library, by the sea, in a gateway, in a corridor, in a window, in a bedroom, in a living room, outside wading in a stream, sitting on the ground in a forest, standing alone in the dark on a road with a suitcase in front of her.

…What makes them fictional?

My most recent previous post on Sherman is here.




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