CS Research, useful article: Deutsche Börse photography prize review – big ideas but the wrong place for them

I’ve not been to this yet (working for money really getting in the way of my work) but I thought this was interesting for two reasons.

1. Relevant reference re. Limits of photography – might have to include this in list of pejorative words I keep coming across describing photography

2. Conservative response to Clare Strand’s work referred time as ‘slightly bonkers’ – surprising and, for me undermines everything he’s ever written. I shall forevermore read his reviews through this coating.

3. Saying that – the inadvertent criticism of the gallery space feels timely. More and more work is contextual – the institution is critiqued and queried frequently nowadays.

‘From second world war concentration camps to the effects of global capitalism on Parisian youth, this year’s contenders produce moving work that struggles in a group context
— Read on www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/feb/20/deutsche-borse-photography-prize-review-big-ideas-but-the-wrong-place-for-them

Museum visit: Troy, Myth and Reality

British Museum, 31st January 2020

Following is not a review (see Guardian for that) or a precis but rather some notes jotted down on my phone detailing thoughts that came to me during and following the visit:


History & Tragedy 

Zeus is ‘vibing’ (said my son) 


Rage and redemption 

Penelope the ideal wife – tom’s first film 

River Styx – dip 

Dead hector 

Eleanor Antin judgement of Paris  – https://www.artforum.com/interviews/eleanor-antin-discusses-her-recent-photographic-series-20824


Eleanor Antin, Judgment of Paris (after Rubens)—Light Helen, 2007, color photograph, 62 x 118“. From the series ”Helen’s Odyssey.” (ArtForum.com – accessed 3/2/2020)



The final piece may mention gods from other cultures ?? 


Motivated perception 


Entity – emergent entity, not formed, a glitchy moment, never developed fully, so no material, no mass but information exists 

leads to conversation 

A: You can’t put me under a microscope and inspect me 

B: What can you do? Can you do special things

A: I’m here aren’t I? But I don’t take up space. You can see me but it’s not easy, you’ve lost the knack. I live on the edge of your imagination 

B: Are you a god 

A: Haha, Perhaps I am 


A person who is a negative / ‘I never fully developed’ 


Virgil and Tristram Shandy are planning a duel (maybe over the protagonist?). She laments, ‘One is quite dead and the other literally a figment of someone’s imagination’. Nevertheless, she tells them it’s illegal and what’s more, utterly out of fashion nowadays. And in any case, she’s not a thing, an object to be won, or to die for. But they take no notice.

Tristam Shandy (I only know of this book but have not read it) -apparently includes various blank pages and dots and squiggles – see where I talked about making the book with different materials, therefore, an idea to hold on to.  (Penultimate bullet point)


Use BOW A1 in an installation on its own – leave alone now

5: Penelope the perfect wife

Tom’s first film? Perhaps  – still undecided there

6: Some responses to the title cutting suggest a reading of ‘self-harm’ – while I am interested in the idea of a society doing itself enormous harm as I believe the West currently is, it seems there are connotations which don’t work for me there. I had unconsciously started referring to it in my head as ‘Script‘ for a moment… I may allow myself to follow that intention through. Letting it sit with me.  The underlying idea remains ‘the cut’ but I think Script can contain that

Possible statement: an entanglement of historical and contemporary possibilities – (out of which novel relationships emerge ??) 

Thought: Tautology is an insecurity (See Barthes’)


Artist: Nam June Paik, Tate November, 2019

I really enjoyed this exhibition and will do doubt return when I will spend more time there, and maybe even make proper notes. In the meantime, I felt the following was important to record and ingest.

The statement for TV Garden describes how Paik “imagines a future landscape where technology is an integral part of the natural world”. And “His approach follows a Buddist philosophy that everything is interdependent. It also suggests that technology not in conflict with nature but an extension of the human realm. ” (Tate, 2019) I would say more than an extension and using Barad’s word, intra-related. I think that word is one of the most useful things (amongst a lot of useful things) to come out of my study of her ideas.

An earlier version of interactive light art as seen in Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition


Really loved this magnet making the picture of Nixon wobble. 



Bow 1.2: Artistic and Cultural Influences

The following are some specific influences in the work I’m making for BOW 1.2 (actually A2 in the file but I’ve been referring to it as A1.2 all this time…)

  1. Joan Jonas

Interview on MOMA https://www.moma.org/artists/2930

I learned about Joan Jonas last year during her show at the Tate and so much was useful for my own practice – such as layering moving image, sometimes mixing performance with other mediums, and all related to working from a feminist perspective, eschewing or perhaps exploring and offering alternatives to historical-artistic habits which might be construed as coming from the masculine i.e. relating it Irigray’s suggestion that the female subject cannot exist within current constructs. But perhaps one of the most helpful things Jonas said was when she asked viewers not to try and understand her work, but rather, allow themselves to experience it.

From an interview about her work: (Louisanna Channel, Vimeo)

“My work is all about layering, because I think that’s the way our brains function.” Jonas argues that we always see and think of several things concurrently: “We see one picture and there’s another picture on top of it. And so I think in a way my work represents that way of seeing the world – putting things together in order to say something.” When Jonas started incorporating video into her performances in 1970, this presented new technical possibilities as she could not only do everything herself, but was also able to show different aspects simultaneously. Furthermore, it provided her with new ways of exploring the notion of “female imagery” in the prime of the feminist movement: “Women were kind of bursting out of their seams.” (2016)

Jonas makes work which attempts to operate in a different realm where instinct isn’t jettisoned and emotions are triggered although we may not fully comprehend why. And that is the kind of work I am experimenting with. I do this by trying not to think about what and how I’m making the work too much, influenced by Dada and Surrealism – and automatic writing. I might simply grab footage that appeals to me in some way, perhaps it is related loosely to themes I’m investigating, and then edit them together without thinking too carefully, to begin with. When I look at what I’ve made, I can find meaning and signifiers that make some sense (to me at any rate) and might develop certain threads which I recognise as having a connection.

2. Re-evaluation of strict rational/logical

I do not eschew rationality but we have throughout Western history (Logocentricism) valued it more highly than instinct in our culture. However, there are many instances nowadays in popular culture where the non-rational is being re-examined and celebrated – any superhero film, but also and more specifically, although the list is much longer than this: Inception (2010) film, The Lost Room, (2006) TV, The OA, (2016/19) TV, Russion Doll (2019) TV. (I do plan to write about the bleakness in many of these shows and relate it to Leckey’s work – see below as well as the blurring of boundaries between life and death, this world and some other world, about the loss of reality which might also be described by some as ‘the end of history – Hegel etc.).

Neuroscientists are also more inclined nowadays to suggest non-rational thought has been under-valued, instinct has something positive to offer, and that we may have lost something along the way.

“Indeed, relying on your intuition generally has a bad reputation, especially in the Western part of the world where analytic thinking has been steadily promoted over the past decades. Gradually, many have come to think that humans have progressed from relying on primitive, magical and religious thinking to analytic and scientific thinking. As a result, they view emotions and intuition as fallible, even whimsical, tools.”

“However, this attitude is based on a myth of cognitive progress. Emotions are actually not dumb responses that always need to be ignored or even corrected by rational faculties. They are appraisals of what you have just experienced or thought of – in this sense, they are also a form of information processing.” van Mulukum (2018)


However, this revaluation of rationality also seems dangerous in many instances, such as the growth of the anti-vax movement or the Flat Earthers (I am convinced some Flat Earthers are simply ‘taking the almighty piss’ – Australia is a hoax, for instance, is just too, too mad.) Even so, I can’t help but see that the story of Cassandra as salutary – in it, the symbolic and the rational are valued but the imaginary and instinct aren’t. The feminine and the traditionally related non-rational, are dismissed as the mad ravings of a lunatic even though in the end Cassandra, condemned never to be understood, was right.

The desire to revisit tales of witchcraft (as seen in the collaborative work with Pic London – some are exploring elements) is also related to this trend. One of the workshop leaders Una Hamilton Helle is part of another collaboration – Waking the Witch:

“Traditional witchcraft has a strong connection to the earth with an intimate knowledge of herbs, plants and the elements – as well as the human body. As gatekeepers to altered consciousness witches have been both feared and sought out for their dealings with the unknown. Historically persecuted as an outsider, the witch has been taken on by artists as a challenging force to prevailing norms and as a symbol of dissidence. Looking to symbols, tools and the coven as a space for focusing collective intent, the artists in this exhibition explore the path of the witch as one for how we can connect with the earth and each other.” (wakingthewitch.uk)


3. Walter Benjamin as quoted in James Elkins What Photography is (2011)

Another reason for making work this way, is because my head is filled with fragments of emotive information gathered from a lifetime of watching films and TV.

Loc 1311 – “…film he said, creates a percussive shock to the consciousness by continuously changing scenes, “I can no longer think what I want to think.” he writes. “My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.” (The Work of Art, in Illuminations, 238)

See mention of Virillo below – who also discussed fragmentation and film.

4. Hannah Höch

I have been a fan of Höch since seeing her work at the Whitechapel when I first started with the OCA. I couldn’t believe I’d not learned about her before. Strangely before going, I was not particularly looking forward to seeing her work and didn’t think much of montage! “I didn’t think I was going to enjoy the Hannah Hoch show quite as much I as did, despite having read somewhere that it was the must-go-to show of the moment. I’m not sure why, especially as I’d been in a reenactment of The Cabaret Voltaire at Manchester Metropolitan University, shortly after graduating in 1994 and enjoyed it immensely.” (Field 2014)


From artsy.com:

“Photomontages were the original remix. In the early 20th century, a group of European artists spliced together images they’d found in popular media, creating singular artworks via a strategy of sampling. The results show both individual statements by their makers and cross-sections of visual culture from a particular historical moment… []

… one of the few female members recognized by the movement, offered a refreshing antithesis to such macho constructions. Her own photomontages offer kaleidoscopic visions of German culture during the interwar era, often from a distinctly queer, feminist perspective.” (Cohen, 2019)


Collage is a representation of fragmentation and may be an expression of the sort of continuous changing scenes as mentioned by Benjamin and also Paul Virilio who I quoted in DI&C A2.

“The cinema shows us what our consciousness is. Our consciousness is an effect of montage. There is no continuous consciousness; there are only compositions of consciousness […] collage, cutting, and splicing. We’re in the age of micro-narratives, the art of the fragment.” Paul Virilio (1932-2018)

In my work, I make collage although it is moving-image and contains audio as that is more relevant for today when we are surrounded by adverts that flicker and emit sound constantly – on our phones which we carry around but also in adverts, on escalators, everywhere. This is explored in plenty of science fictions films too, for example, Blade Runner (both 2017 and 1982) and Total Recall (1990 and 2012).

Fragmentation was embraced in theatre, and Brecht’s desire to move away from soporific shows that hypnotised people into accepting their lot in life was replaced by episodic writing of his Epic Theatre which he hoped would make people angry and to act. Ironically, TV today routinely follows the same pattern and time is chopped up and edited, especially in soap-opera’s and sit-coms which are also often accused of hypnotising the masses into accepting their lot in life.

5. Mark Leckey

I had not heard of Mark Leckey until my friend, a filmmaker who I showed DI&C A5 to, said that the first section reminded her of Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1990). Then Catherine (OCA student) suggested meeting up and we chose Leckey’s new show at Tate Britain – O’ MAGIC POWER OF BLEAKNESS (thank you Catherine for kindly suggesting something she knew would be useful for me). I went along and watched the film and spent the whole time thinking, “F*%K! This guy is doing what I do and including signifiers such as networks and space and noise and computer-generated pixels. Except he has way more money and lots of amazing audio and huge screens and other equipment with which to do it!! I am very much committed to a Brechtian eschewing of expense and prefer to embrace using everyday objects, to beg, borrow and steal, to creating Heath-Robinson contraptions. But I was nevertheless somewhat envious as I’m currently desperately trying to bring something together with no money and no tech skills.

However, watching his work also gave me the confidence to keep going.

The overriding sense was, as mentioned in the title, bleakness. The AO (Netflix) also generates something of this in relation to youth culture – and it is this bleakness and indeed horror which sends the characters into different realms. (Which of course also relates to quantum suggestions about multiple universes – I keep thinking about how this relates to myth in general – and the relationship between science and religion.)



(Will write a separate post about this visit.)

6. Jean Painlevé

Ruth suggested Painlevé’s work and they are indeed beautiful films which look at the strange and wonderful creatures that are part of our world, and which looks bizarre to us but we are no doubt horrifying to them. In my work, I look at the very small and liken their worlds to ours. What I rather like about is the music which is more like something you’d expect from a Hitchcock film. Constructing realities…

7. Rivane Neuenschwander born 1967, Cao Guimarães born 1965

Continuing from above – looking at creatures smaller than us, I loved the film described below when I saw it at Tate Modern recently. Although there is no montage here, the focus on creatures with which we share the world and who interact with us, even though we may not know it, is key.

Quarta-Feira de Cinzas / Epilogue 2006 is a single-channel video lasting 5 minutes and 48 seconds and shown on a loop. It features a ground-level, close-up view of red and black ants carrying coloured confetti across the floor of the Brazilian rainforest. The film starts with one ant carrying a piece of gold confetti over a gritty surface, followed by shots of differently sized ants attempting to grip or drag confetti across soil and tree trunks. As the video progresses it begins to show multiple ants per scene: a pair collaborate to move a disc up a small hill, and a group fights over a piece of silver confetti.” (Karmen, 2018)


8. Pipilotti Rist

Rist was suggested as someone I might look at in feedback for BOW A1. I wrote about her in S&O. I have been influenced by her work in many ways and love how she discusses language. While thinking about how/what to do with the poem, I have been reminded about Rist’s recent work – pressed up against the glass. This glass screen image has been referenced in Netflix’s The AO too – where young people (Millenials) are imprisoned in glass tanks, like fish – unable to touch each other, as if locked behind screens and reliant on a powerful but far from perfect and punitive God-like character what manages their time/food, etc. (A metaphor for the keepers of the technology that imprisons us).



Image from: http://arts.timessquarenyc.org/times-square-arts/media/press-releases/pipilotti-rist-open-my-glade-flatten/index.aspx

I need to work out why I thought of this. I think it came about by thinking about filming my mouth speaking the text – but this feels a bit hackneyed.

Although the poem doesn’t mention glass or social media, but as Ruth (happily) picked up on it is very much about now, about being unconnected and existing in some sort of limbo much like the imprisoned Millenials in The AO.

One of the things Ruth said about the earlier iteration of the film is that it didn’t feel political in the same way the text did. I hope by simplifying I have rectified that. (All my work aims to be deeply political).

James Elkins What Photography Is (2011)

I am adding this after writing about my Literature Review. Elkins spend a great deal of time examining the same sort of things I am referencing in the film and the poem.

The very small and the way technology is used to make the A-bomb and then dissect it. perhaps this inspection of what reality is the same inquiry into what a photograph is.

Martin Mach – http://www.baertierchen.de/sweets.html

Dust from the world trade centre after 9/11

From https://911research.wtc7.net/essays/thermite/explosive_residues.html

Harold Egerton, Atomic explosions caught on camera

From: https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2010/09/28/130183266/abomb?t=1569676113183

Artist: Douglas Gordan Feature Film (1999)

I just loved this AV project so much. The Tate tells us,

“Gordon’s installation focuses on James Conlon, the principal conductor of the Paris Opera at the time. He leads a hundred-piece orchestra playing Bernard Herrmann’s score for the psychological thriller Vertigo1958, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Over 80 minutes, the combined length of all of the music in Vertigo, the camera never leaves Conlon. We follow his animated body, his agitated hands and his expressive face. The musicians are heard but never seen.

Herrmann’s score is an essential element of Hitchcock’s film. Endlessly circling and spiralling, the music perfectly matches the tale of duplicity and obsessive love. The original film is playing without sound on a monitor as part of the installation.” (Ladd, 2019)

I think the Artangel Youtube video has the most wonderful description, far more inventive than the Tate’s dry blurb.

“In Feature Film, Douglas Gordon arranged a divorce between sound and vision – and orchestrated an affair between what you remember and what you see.” (2016)

As a child, I was fed a diet of old movies. I loved them. And the music was always an incredibly important element – it prompted me to listen to classical music and imagine all sorts of dramatic scenarios in which I was the tragic star. I will have invented many a an imaginary SJF production playing in the rockery and tree-caves of our garden with this type of music and associated narratives in the back on my mind (or perhaps I should say the forefront).  A lot of my work has aimed in some way to come to terms with this although as I write now, I do remember that child and the imaginary games with tenderness  – and without the rancour I usually feel for being duped as growing up by a misogynistic society into thinking I was just a thing; a not very clever or valuable thing at that. Whatever all of that may mean or lead to, this music consequently feels a bit like the soundtrack for my own imagined construction of life, feminity and reality narrative. The title fits with this so much  – as an adult I feel I had internalised these films and tried to live my life as one, then struggled when I discover it wasn’t – or else perhaps got caught up in an unhelpful script.

I am terribly interested in pulling things apart and inspecting them – and this project does just that. I lay on the floor of the gallery and watched the silent Vertigo on a small screen turning to watch the footage of the composer from time to time. And when I tried to leave the music kept pulling me back for more. It’s perfect that it should be in the huge boiler basement room and that it should be so dark. (And I loved it when it was just me in there and slightly resented the other visitors for intruding… sorry for being mean!)



Artist: Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1979-86)

I went to the Tate, primarily to see the Olafur Eliasson show, but in the end, found two other rooms far more satisfying. One of these was Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1979-86). I first referenced Goldin’s project at the start of UVC when planning an essay; “I was going to discuss Nan Goldin and The Ballad of Sexual Dependency which was shown as a slide show as a well as being produced as a book. She’s really interesting to me and I like that her work grew out of the tail end of the Punk movement which has been linked to Dada, both movements utilising new technologies as they emerge – to question and subvert the status quo. I also loved the way in which the title would link back to my love of Brecht’s work, Threepenny Opera“.

Because I have seen or thought and mentioned Goldin often while studying I was immensely pleased to see the slideshow in full and in person. One of my ex-tutors said the Tate does seem to sterilise work and I wonder if that is unavoidable in this case – bringing an underground, anti-commodified piece into a highly funded gallery such as the Tate. I would very much like to have experienced it in a club in the 80s in NY where the slideshow was shown originally. The video below, where it was presented in Arles alongside live music by The Tiger Lillies (2009) who collaborated with Goldin may be the next best thing. The band’s style reflects the title’s Brechtian routes and they bring their own contemporary flavour to the soundtrack which you can listen to here (not sure how long that link will remain live as Goldin appears to be relatively robust about copyright infringement.)

Even so, I was extremely moved by the work and watched at all the way through. Like the people it depicts, the images are the antithesis of advertising ‘perfection’. And I wonder if Millenials who have grown up with phone-cameras appreciate Goldin’s energy and the alacrity with which she photographs everything. I don’t think they can possibly imagine how unusual that may have been in the 80s. (Recently I looked through some old CDs of images taken by my mother in the early 90s and noticed how much time and how many geographical miles there were between images. Like most of us nowadays she is prolific with her digital picture taking ). While trying to engage my son in something productive before the summer, I suggested he photograph his life which I had to assume wouldn’t be too challenging nowadays – he’s got a good eye and phone camera on him always. Eventually, he said, “Mum, you don’t know how hard it is to remember to ….Oh, hang on, of all the people you do know!” Yes, I do know but I hadn’t realised how challenging it would be for him. Goldin’s project is a passionate quest which only she could generate for herself. Despite the current social habit of incessant picture-taking, my son’s comment makes me appreciate Goldin’s commitment even more. It’s also interesting to see how Goldin values images that may be unlikely to published today on anyone’s social media showreel of perfection – even by people who aren’t thinking about traditionally considered ‘good-picture taking rules’.

Today when questions surrounding ethics, quite rightly, play an important role in any documentary project, it’s hard to know whether this work may have been made at all, or if so, in this way, despite Goldin being at the heart of the community. And as stated on the Tate site, they “now stand as a time capsule of a community and culture that would soon be lost due to the AIDS crisis.” (Allen, 2019) This, of course, adds to the rage, anguish, and desperate sadness the project contains. And might make us consider how we navigate ethics and judge those who breach evolving boundaries. (I am not in any way saying we should encourage or accept certain situations such as photographing and then promoting the rape of a child) but I am suggesting ethical concerns are fraught with complex questions and the fact Goldin is a woman taking some of these images adds to the complexity. Some stories need to/must be told, some situations should not go unrecorded – finding ways to do it can be difficult.)

I hope to return again.


Allen, A 2019 Nan Goldin, Tate Website, Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/display/nan-goldin (Accessed 3/9/19)




Artist: Gregory Eddi-Jones

Flowers for Donald is, as stated on Eddi-Jone’s website, “is a series of digital collage work begun in the days following the 2016 U.S. election” (2016-18). I saw these at the Foam exhibtion I went to earlier this year but I must admit they did not draw me in initially. (It was very busy when I went to see the exhibtion and not an ideal scneario for looking – too many people strainging to be seen there that evening.) It was only when looking for references to flowers recently that I really took notice.

I really like that the artists says, “I wouldn’t feel right with myself to make work that doesn’t address this very significant social and political paradigm shift we are undergoing. It is too large to ignore.” I agree.

The work references dadaesque montage which Eddi-Jones suggests are, “strategies of appropriation, collage, and aesthetics of absurdity to reflect instability in political and media environments.” Thinking back to what I wrote yesterday as I responded to Roberta’s feedback , I could refer to Flowers for Donald in my essay however, I’m not sure it addresses her query about why it – “it make no sense to talk about the original photo or film” in post-modernist appropraition work. (I think that is what she means). In my notes yesterday I talked about the articualted nature of Dada montage and the fluidity of today’s infomation language  – I think I would try to incoporate that into anything I do today. Although Eddi-Jones does not do that, he does include screen grabs from news about the election and other remnants of the ‘spectacle’ -note he also includes the iconic opening shot from Society of the Spectacle film. And I mentioed being brave myself and grabbing modern contemporary imagary.

I particualry like the way Eddi-Jones has taken a text as his starting point and the challenge “the role and function of art itself in politically turbulent times” (2016-18)



Artist: Hicham Berrada

Berrada is concerned with some of the same things I seem to be focusing on – but his practice is completely different from where mine is heading for now. I can’t find my way out of representation and while I am inspired by the scientific theories I see, he actually uses the chemicals and scientific practice to make the work.

“The aim of science is to produce new knowledge, whereas I am trying to disorient our points of reference. My practice is artistic, but it uses the tools and methods introduced by science, and the protocols of scientific experiments. Science has provided us with excellent tools for apprehending the real world, as well as for manipulating and giving form to reality. I use these tools as a visual artist to produce forms and images that do not have a specific scientific purpose.” (From an interview on the Hayward Gallery website, 2019)


The film I made for DI&C A5 began with the word deviation which I noticed being used a lot in Turin’s essay about morphogenesis. I think what I end up doing is making connections with the language we use  – leading to more opaque and less comprehensible results than Berrada’s. But I wonder if that somehow links to the way language operates; it contains information that isn’t always easy to unravel and see so clearly.

I have been looking this weekend with more depth at epigenetics (with frustratingly limited science knowledge). Our DNA is spooled around histone proteins (I think!) and that makes it impossible for all of the DNA information to be read. Epigenetics is the way a second level of information – highlights and blackouts and markers means some information to be accessed and triggered. I’m still figuring it out! … I’m wondering if this could be a good metaphor for how language works too – maybe, maybe not. Will see.

Berrada’s work will be at the Hayward Gallery from tomorrow and I intend to go along and see it as soon as possible.

“For this solo exhibition – his first in a UK institution – the artist brings together a number of new and existing works, including a series of illuminated tanks that feature delicate and ephemeral chemical landscapes, and a large-scale immersive video installation that explores morphogenesis, the biological process that causes an organism to change shape.” (Hayward Gallery website, 2019)



Study visit: Cindy Sherman

Later this month I am booked to attend a study visit led by Jayne Taylor to see the Sherman exhibition at NPG.

This is a sort of placeholder at the moment – a place to store some links. Although I have resisted Sherman’s work as an influence, I do feel it will be valuable to me here, and I do keep stumbling upon it in various places right now, including in OCA colleague, Selina Wallace’s CS A5.

She is quoted as saying, ““The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work … []… But I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.” (Cain, 2016) The belittling of feminism theory makes me bristle, not to mention the elitist institutionalisation of the Sherman brand.

I will return to this page after the visit.




Last week, as discussed, said study visit took place. We began the day with a bit of a disappointing talk which seemed to be aimed at A level or lower rather than degree HE level. The speaker started by stating, “these are not selfies”, and it never really improved from there.

Following the talk, we had time to look at the work – and there is a lot of it – before gathering to discuss what we had seen.

Comments made by other students:

  • A female artist has made a career without getting her kit off during the vast majority of it. This is to be commended. I very much agree. If she ever does play with nudity, she opts for highlighting the grotesque, using prosthesis and puppets.
  • Her work nowadays seems quite distant from the everyday. When she was starting she emulated scenes we’d all seen on the cinema screen. Nowadays, she tends to play with the masks that the super-rich construct.
  • Her work parodies the world she lives within. They love her for it. So it can seem like an in-joke for her circle and possibly even irrelevant to “the average” person.
  • She is a very good actor
  • The Untitled trope (all her work is labeled such with #number) became tedious
  • The clowns were creepy (well, yes)
  • A student asked, “did anyone hate it?”
  • Sherman is a performance artist.


Perhaps, a bit unimaginatively, I was mostly drawn to the very well-known Untitled Stills (1977-1980). I also enjoyed seeing Sherman’s student work; she had already begun dressing up but in these early examples there is something quite Dada-esque or surreal about these images and it was interesting to see her early experiments with identity. The later work reminded me of characters from the Capitol in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books (2008-2011) later adapted for the cinema, where citizens are spoilt, rich, culturally violent, wholly lacking in empathy, hedonistic, dressed in over-designed fashion, and complicit in the alienation of people who are kept away from the economic centre, while tortured and some murdered and forced to live in abject poverty.


From: http://theconversation.com/heres-looking-at-cindy-sherman-head-shots-59444


Given her habit of drawing on popular culture to create her images, it isn’t surprising I make this connection with a Hollywood franchise (along with what the narrative represents) when I think about some of Sherman’s work. A couple of the fashion images which appeared in Vogue are very striking too. I noted there were no examples of the Instagram selfies where Sherman pushes some of the transformative technology available to create monstrous images of women (many of which have disappeared from her Instagram feed).

The Guardian review ends with, “Who is Cindy, what is she? It is almost impossible to fix upon her in this slippery image. As in life, so in art: Sherman makes herself up as she goes along; and her camera catches the truth, that we may all be strangers to ourselves.” (Cumming, 2019) I’m not sure trying to figure out who Sherman is, is the point – although it is difficult to avoid being drawn into that conundrum, which I address in the penultimate paragraph. Even Sherman, in a childhood document, seems overly concerned with stating the obvious to herself by repeating “thats me, thats me, thats me”, which might be read as an inverted insecurity about the truth of that statement. Of course, we should avoid imposing individual-focused pop-psychology on her work.

But it’s so tempting to (which makes me wonder about avoiding doing so) and perhaps it says something about the tensions at work in our society between female subjectivity and the gaze (male or otherwise). “Sherman remained unwilling to directly tie her work to feminist theory” and “own expressly non-theoretical, even anti-theoretical stance.” (Cain, 2016) For me, one the most interesting aspects of Sherman’s work might be the gaze and female representation. I don’t’ know enough to say whether her reported dismissals of feminist theory are genuine, over-reported or attention seeking-affectation.

Phone pic

Either way,  when you look at her work, she’s either dedicated her whole career to exploring female representation, or she’s simply addicted to dressing up and taking pictures of herself on her own in a room while searching for a stable persona. Whatever the case, we end up thinking about and querying the way women are seen and see themselves when we look at her work.

But perhaps more crucially, we can’t help but look for a place to situate her, to place in context, to fulfill a recognition which often remains elusive. In a useful blog/article titled Subverting the Male Gaze for Curating the Contemporary (artists and curators platform blog), Sherman is quoted;

“When I prepare each character I have to consider what I’m working against; that people are going to look under the make-up and wigs for that common denominator, the recognizable. I’m trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me.” (quoted in Schulz-Hoffman, 1991: 30).” (Sorrentino, 2014)

The very first image in the exhibition is large and shows us a groomed, polished, middle-aged woman with french manicured hands, highlights, straightened hair, heavily made-up, wearing expensive looking sports clothing. She appears rich, and like so many women on TV or the cinema, or who I might have met when doing corporate headshots – the bosses of companies, never the workers – or photographed at charity events or parties. I spent ages trying to place my recognition. She seemed so very, very familiar. It was like seeing someone in B&Q and thinking they’re your friend or a person you’ve met, only to eventually realise you’ve seen them somewhere on the ‘telly’.

Phone image

Whatever else it might be evoking, Sherman’s work is exploring celebrity, simulacra and simulation, the way modern culture gaslights us into thinking so much of what we experience is real, while it, in fact, often lacks ‘the real’. And how that is only ever linked to consumerism – a lifestyle which is being sold to us and is completely and utterly false and made up. And consumerism is without a doubt heavily invested in selling femininity to us. But I wonder if women and disenfranchised men are victims of this nowadays – leaving so many of us unsure of who we are, hence selfie culture which, like Sherman’s childhood diary are attempts to reassure ourselves  – THIS IS ME!! It is, it is, it is, it is, I tell you!! So, while we should be wary of imposing pop-psychology on Sherman herself, it might point us towards clues which help us to understand how her work expresses something on behalf of all of us.

Perhaps a most memorable moment for me was listening to three women talk about the picture I just described. They turned to look at the image opposite, where Sherman is dressed as some sort of quirky media boss. Like all her later work, both are powerful caricatures. “Ooooh! said on the viewers, is it the same woman?” They discussed this possibility for a while by comparing features and decided, in the end, it was not the same person. They then proceeded onwards to look at the rest of the exhibition. I couldn’t help wondering if they ever twigged and what they might have gained from the exhibition if not!

Thanks to Jayne Taylor for organising.