Saturday, February 21, 2009

I'll be your mirror

I am my own screen as well as the environment’s projection surface. Other people are my mirror, and I am their mirror. - Manon

I recently had the good fortune to come upon a copy of the catalog for Manon-A Person, which documents the first comprehensive exhibit on the Swiss artist, Manon. While little known in US, Manon has been a pioneer in performance, installation, and photography since the 1970s. Her practice parallels feminist works by artists like Hannah Wilke and Carolee Schneemann and explores sexuality, identity and gender construction through the use of her own body.

In 1966, the young artist rejected her civil name and became Manon, after the title character of a Henri-Georges Clouzot film. Critic Thomas Wynn has described Clouzot’s heroine as a “disembodied and mythical seductress.” It seems this is an apt description of the artist too, as she lures us to her through a constant state of disappearance. Much like Cindy Sherman, Manon hides herself through the act of disguise and display.

Both Manon and Sherman play roles and use masquerade to critique identity construction. In the series Ball of Loneliness, Manon photographs herself as a series of characters waiting alone on a dark couch. She plays countless roles including a housewife, a sex kitten, a proper lady, a femme fatale, and street urchin. Who or what are these women waiting for? Are they a group of women united through their mutual loneliness or are they a manifestation of a single psyche? Her 1977, work The Artist Is Present would point to the later. In this performance, the artist employed a group of young women to become Manon impersonators.

Manon, Ball of Loneliness, 1980

Cindy Sherman, Bus Riders, 1977

Manon, The Artist Is Present, 1977

Manon understands the power of self-construction when she says “I wanted to be my own product in the form of space, in the form of photograph, a picture, a performance.” She produces herself over and over again through a highly stylized replication that is predicated on duality. Like a movie star, Manon is ephemeral; she exists only as a series of images, gestures, costumes, and objects.

The exhibit, Manon- A Person originated in Helmhaus Zurich and will be on view at the Swiss Institute in New York April 29- June 20, 2009. An archive of works and biographical information can be viewed on the artist’s website (English version still under construction.)

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