Issue 22 May 1995 RSS

Cindy Sherman

Metro Pictures, New York, USA

Cindy Sherman’s photography, in its current incarnation more painterly and serenely weird than ever, returns: a sited artifice and appearance. Overwrought with primitivism and ritualistically cannibalising categories such as ‘self’ and ‘other’ - rather than ‘woman’ - Sherman’s photographs are events that take place against the lush, curtained backdrops associated with the classical trompe-l’oeil interiors of portraiture. As such, the 15 exhibited works seem to continue Sherman’s ‘history painting’ photographs of herself with prosthetic body parts, yet mark a certain departure from these and her earlier manner of production.

In the recent pictures, the partial and imitative body of the doll signifies the not-fully-human, as well as the basic untruth of representation. Undermining the notion that ‘human’ status is either available or positionable, except in imitativeness, these works also confirm the nonsense and feigned wholeness of the subject. They deny a hoped-for reflection, or cultivation, of the self in inanimate things. Moreover, the photographs seem to point to a freakishness within the human - to ideas of contortion and disfigurement - as the unstable core of that supposed unity. The move to portraiture in Sherman’s earlier work has been displaced in this context by multiple exposures, swirling spatialised vortices and tableau-like ‘group’ arrangements. These call to mind the fantastic scenes described by Raymond Roussel as much as specimens encased at an ethnographic museum or Hans Bellmer’s Doll: Variations on the Assemblage of an Articulated Minor (1934).

Among the would-be violent metamorphoses and dislocations of physiognomy writ on the ‘human’ body, witness the seemingly severed and dislodged doll parts; the disjointed and inverted toothy mouths; the decapitated or outsized heads; the bulging eye-balls and sagging facial masks. Strung together as a broken narrative, the body arranged by Sherman seems to suggest the process of description, while condemning the finalisation that is its inevitable result. Therefore, to describe any one of these works as whole, rather than to point to them as parts, seems an impoverished undertaking from the outset. In that light, iconographers who see these images as replete with the human body in diverse postures at the hands of discourse, rather than as plastic parts of mannequins, are the first to fall by the critical wayside.

Take, for example, the most beautiful and most repellent of the works: the former is a close-up of an apparent embrace, and the latter a contest between five smaller red compositions with red skin-and-muscle- like shards of material inlaid with teeth, eyes and orifices. Here, detail crowds the frame and overwhelms it - the body is illegible by virtue of being too close. As much as Mondrian, Judd, or McCollum, Sherman teaches the value of repetition infused with difference, releasing the radical potential of seriality in a manner reminiscent of Eva Hesse’s work. Equally true for the early film stills as much as the later images, Sherman’s work can only be grasped by virtue of its seriality; for it is in the relationship between works that the meaning of difference surfaces.

Kim Paice

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First published in
Issue 22, May 1995

by Kim Paice

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