This show of deconstructed self-portraits presents images of a self that is now fragmented and pluralised. The stylistics of existence and aesthetics overlap; the self-portrait acts as a mask, temporarily animated by the ghost of artistic volition.
The show includes photographs, films and sculptures by Mathew Barney, Mat Collishaw, Peter Land, Wood and Harrison, Mónica Castillo, Beagles and Ramsay, Cindy Sherman, Mark Neville, Melanie Smith and Bjørn Melhus. Barney’s work is hard to beat when it comes to self-aggrandisement dragged up as a sustained critique of the ‘centred self’. A triptych of images from his Drawings Restraint series is on show, depicting himself and Björk. They are ideal egos, ego ideals, admiring themselves and each other.
After this contrived tableau, it is almost refreshing to be spat in the face by Mat Collishaw. His ‘Spitting Machine’ is sexy and threatening, an interactive minimalist two-way mirrored box with a DVD of the artist lolling about before gobbing on the shiny surface.
Sherman gives good face as usual, but of course that should be ‘faces’. Her rotten-toothed party monster grimaces beside a sexily sexless youth. Across the gallery space from the ‘Shermans’, Castillo presents versions of herself, based on how her friends think she looks. The images and the idea are almost comically po-faced and naïve: people think she looks a bit different and we don’t care.
When artistic intention is split between two distinct personalities—as in the work on show by Beagles and Ramsay, and Harrison and Wood—it seems far more difficult for the artists to take themselves seriously. This works to their advantage. Beagles and Ramsay have installed a large ‘Glitter Island’, with TV portrait heads as their proxy on this ridiculously kitsch stage. The artists pose as dandified dilettantes, mirroring the chin-stroking actions of the viewer.
Meanwhile, Harrison and Wood are seen attached to swivel chairs, skating about the pristine white cube in the back of a Luton van. Like discrete bodies in space, they are thrown about and through what comes to look like a choreographed dance routine; there is pattern in the chaos.
The eternal, painful fall of mankind is also mocked up in Land’s two-channel video projection ‘The Staircase’. He appears to be rolling down an eternal staircase on one screen, whilst the facing screen maps a journey into outer space. We are somewhere in between, falling through space and time.
The video projections by Neville and Smith are uninteresting as individual pieces, but occasionally interact to create a pretty hybrid. When juxtaposed with the slow-motion torrent of tears that fall from the enormous eye in Neville’s ‘I am too sad to tell you …’, the faked teary farewell recorded by Smith in ‘Parress II’ creates a camp but touching meditation on loss.
Elsewhere, Melhus takes this to its absolute extreme, with the artist dressed as a rubberised alien, singing to himself from one side of a virtual reality to another. It is touching and ridiculous, like everything that is deeply felt and meant.
Alexander Kennedy is a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art