I have seen a million
pictures of my face
I have no idea
Sync, Psych, Self (sic), an exhibition of photographic self-portraiture at the FK Gallery, ruminates on the idea that a self-portrait can attempt to depict the artist’s/subject’s self.
Curator Stephanie Ballantine argues that this attempt to reveal the self is in direct contrast to the social media selfie. Often the selfie portrays an idealised and manicured image of reality. While the selfie projects an ideal and thereby obscures the self, the self-portrait aims to be an honest depiction of the subject.
This is directly addressed by Stephanie Stonem’s Smile (2018) and Smile Text (2018). The photographs explore the artist’s complicated relationship with Instagram, highlighting the difference between the images on her Instagram and the reality of her daily life experiences.
This discrepancy points to a larger theme of the exhibition: the boundary between the self, the physical body and the image.
All the photographs in the exhibition are of bodies. However it quickly becomes apparent that clarity or exposure of the physical body is not a necessity when portraying the self. Some of the bodies in the photographs are naked and face the camera head-on like Benjamin’s Pfau’s Untitled (Keelung, Taiwan) (2017) or Danielle Terblanche’s Between Sentences (2018) while other photographs depict the body completely covered such as Kat Toronto’s MISS MEATFACE DESIREES ROSE (2017) or show the body turned away from camera like Massat Bilu-Issler’s After Richter (2014). The implication is that although the body and the self are extremely closely connected they are perhaps distinct.
The exhibition also emphasises that the body, and images of the body, are constantly policed. For example Daantje Bons’s I covered myself up, so I won’t offend you (2018), Sarawut Chutiwongpeti’s Wishes, Lies and Dreams The Dream of a Greater Country (2016) and Isra Yaghi’s Free (2018) demonstrate that attempting to show the self through the body is can be a political act and that the policing of bodies can make this attempt quite difficult at times.
Collectively the photographs in the exhibition show that the attempt to capture the self is so intriguing precisely because it is so difficult. Hung on its own directly above the exhibition’s title is Aasiyah’s Je suis floue (2016). Translated to English the title would be “I am blurry”. The photograph is an out-of-focus self-portrait taken by facing a camera toward a mirror. Sync, Psych, Self (sic) suggests that it is not only Aasiyah who is blurry; Ultimately our selves are blurry, which arguably makes them an endlessly fascinating subject matter.
2018, Hannah van der Est, freelance writer and art critic based in Berlin.