Beyond the Face: Contemporary Self-Portrait Artists
REVIEW • SELFIES AS ART
Artstein has compiled a list of self-portrait artists who use different methods to express, explore and question ideas on identity and individualism.
CORNELIA HEDIGER, JANIETA EYRE, GIOVANNI GARCIA-FENECH, KIMIKO YOSHIDA, LILIANE VERTESSEN, SHI MOHAN
Nietzsche insisted that "Every profound spirit needs a mask." Grabbing different masks to play in different stories, all these Self-Portraitists focus less on reality and more on potential. While some of these works are highly narrative and follow a specific piece of fiction, others explore existence and human emotions.
Cornelia Hediger's full frame self-portraits combine multiple identities using a grid system. She pays careful attention to setting and space, while maintaining the photographic integrity of each grid. This series 'Doppelgänger' expresses a thrilling narrative about human journey through the subconscious, conscious, ego and alter ego.
The idea behind the 'Doppelgänger' series comes from Cornelia's fondness of literature and passion for storytelling. When translated literally, 'Doppelgänger' means "a ghostly double of a living person." The series is concerned, therefore, with split identities.
The images are photographed in sections, which reinforces the idea of duality. The breaks within the pictures reflect similar breaks within the self. In this way, Cornelia forms a new physical space with each grid. Over the course of the series, these spaces become increasingly integrated with the characters. The artist states, "Walls are painted/wallpapered, lights installed, props and clothing are meticulously chosen. Posture, hand gestures and body language are all painstakingly determined and performed."
Janieta manipulates the theatricality at play in her work, often employing fantastic and carnivalesque settings. She uses props and costumes to disrupt the fixity of both image and identity. Her photographic aesthetic goes hand in hand with collages and illustrations.
Janieta's 'Mute Book' series states that she was a Siamese twin at birth. Her sister died during 43-hour surgery that separated them. In much of her artworks, Janieta presents herself as a set of twins, frequently depicting the phantom sensations that have haunted her since the separation. She engages with the possibility of amorphous identities and fictional doubles, constructing an autobiography that is based more on possibility than reality.
Giovanni plays with shape and form to highlight his weaknesses, failures and ultimately, humanity. Admitting his fallibility sets him free. Giovanni's awkwardly centered self-portraits display a naked man in an expressionist, figurative style. He states:
"I wanted to make work that communicated something personal rather than intellectual, something that wouldn't protect me from embarrassment or rejection - so I decided to start painting myself. Not how I looked, but how I felt about myself and my body."
"The more the figure is repeated, the more different self-portrait becomes."
Kimiko's quasi-monochrome self-portraits are large, square, subtly lit photographs. They are free from anecdotal references, storytelling, and narrative. No editing, no Photoshop: these self-portraits rely on paint and makeup alone. The conceptual protocol behind Kimiko's work is distinctive; from 2001 to the present day, her works of art invariably feature the same setting, lighting and framing.
Kimiko's series, 'Writing', examines identity issues by raising the question of 'How many am I? She uses figurative and abstract self-portraits to reflect on what it means to exist.
She believes that "self-portrait isn't a reflection of oneself, but a reflection upon the representation of oneself... the division between representation and meaning, representation and disappearance, representation and absence, signifier and signified."
Liliane Vertessen was born in the post-war era, at a time when Pollock's arm was dripping on a canvas and the relationship body and artwork was in its infancy. She grew up as an abstract expressionist child. She was a teenager in the 1960s, at the height of the pop art movement, and an aspiring photographer in the '70s. Now, she is known as one of the first Belgian artists to use her own body as an artistic medium. Over the years, her works of art have evolved to reflect these different eras; the influence of modern art is clearly present in her self-portraits.
Liliane stages tableaux vivants, portraying a different character in each self-portrait. She dresses up in romantic and provocative clothing in order to explore several identities: the vamp, the diva, the lady, the hooker, and the innocent. Once the pictures are captured, the analogue photos are coloured and displayed alongside feathers, fur and, most notably, neon colours. Liliane's poses are highly staged and radiate a 'kitschy world of glitter', so much that so that the artist statement declares, "She never really exposes herself and her actual identity remains elusive."
Shi Mohan depicts the same character in different settings and moods. Although her portraits represent a dark and corrupt youth, her paintings are still surprisingly innocent and pleasant at the same time. The subject is a child similar to Wednesday from 'The Addams Family', whose unexpected, bizarre thoughts and desires contradict the idea of youthful innocence. At the same time, traditional notions of playfulness and love are maintained. The cartoonish illustrations are a reflection of the artist herself, documenting her feelings about own life and towards the world in general. Shi says "If all my works are kneaded into one thread, it becomes a feeling of exhaustion and anxiousness towards our reality."
The paintings all use pastel tones, and each artwork exist in harmony alongside one another. Together, they form a bigger story, as if each piece of art is one chapter in the subject's life. This narrative inevitably leave viewers wondering what will happen in Shi's next episode.