Edward Ressle is pleased to present Convulsive Beauty, on view from February 15th – April 14th, 2018. Ever since the invention of photography, women artists have employed this technical medium to expose stereotypically accepted female representations and the notion of beauty portrayed in a Western world. Deconstructed to provoke, incite and often humor, the clichéd female form in art, as well as in the larger scope of society, was called into question by a myriad of trailblazers who emerged with stinging, contemporaneous critique and analysis of their roles as not just woman, but as artists.
The fascination with oneself and the ability to document and experience a multitude of egos is not exclusively a postmodern issue. From the mid-to-late 1800s, one such Countess de Castiglione (1837-99) dared to photograph herself over 400 times to make both societal and political statements with her body and presence in society. Devising images and unlocking the type of ‘convulsive beauty’, decades before Andre Breton and his manifestos entered the theoretical realm of artistry, La Castiglione created alternative identities, masqueraded herself and incorporated mirrors in her photographs to fragment and multiply body parts — a true Surrealist. By sidelining traditional projections of femininity, La Castiglione propelled this concept of a visual diary, recording her influential, if not comparatively short, existence, carving out a spot for herself in history and making a mark on the evolution of women in the arts.
Living in the post-war civilization, or in the realm of the spectacle, as the philosopher Guy Debord would put it, society was dominated by a people whose life was constantly mediated by images. Through a materialized worldview which came into being by way of excess mass-media technologies, postmodern photography, as employed by artists like Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman, was characterized by conscious and deliberate intercontextuality. By using their bodies as canvas, all three of these artists were able to create a dialogue between the viewer and the viewer’s internal predispositions and ideas of what it means to depict and encounter the female form. Subjecting themselves to the photographic exploration of female representation, they were able to re-contextualize traditional discourse concerning their own truths and lived experiences.
Cindy Sherman (1954-) viewed the medium of photography as malleable; a tool in service to the imagination. Creating a body of work, similar to La Castiglione, devoted obsessively to self-portraiture which explored female identity, was the cornerstone of Sherman’s rise to prominence. As she altered the way society thought and recognized cultural icons and categorized beauty, Sherman through her Untitled Film Stills, 1977-80 series, constantly transformed from one character to another, never truly recognized as anyone in particular. She entered into the dialogue of stereotypically depicted female characters in film, exploring the complexity of representation in a world saturated with imagery. Moreover, photographers like Francesca Woodman (1958-81) manipulated the medium by slowing her exposure speed to create ghostly images of her body in relation to space as well as the objects chosen in her interiors. Often appearing engulfed by her surrounding environment, Woodman, in her intense and brief life, took the concept behind a typical self-portrait and transformed it into a psychological portrait, one that captured her ‘in-between’ moments and states ‘in transition’. Later found in her journal, Woodman wrote that she was “inventing a language for people to see the everyday things that I also see...and show them something different...Simply the other side”.
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