Sunday, 1 September 2013

Cindy Sherman - Sex Pictures

Untitled #305, 1994

Cynthia "Cindy" Morris Sherman (born January 19, 1954) is an American photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits. Through a number of different series of works, Sherman has sought to raise challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art.

Provoked by the 1989 NEA funding controversy involving photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, as well as the way Jeff Koons modelled his porn star wife in his "Made in Heaven" series, Sherman produced the Sex series in 1989. For once she removed herself from the shots, as these photographs featured pieced-together medical dummies in flagrante delicto.

Untitled #259, 1992

They are just dolls—or, rather, bits culled from several different medical anatomical mannequins—but exceedingly discomfiting dismembered dolls posed in graphically and weirdly contorted sexual positions. They are dolls that can embarrass us. The Sex Pictures series combines the gruesome qualities of fairy tales with the victim-oriented centerfold images and adds a grotesque and blatantly sexual quality. The combination is disturbing to say the least. They’re even a tad disturbing to Sherman herself: “I have this juvenile fascination with things that are repulsive. It intrigues me why certain things are repulsive. To think about why something repulses me makes me that much more interested in it.”

It’s not surprising that many people find the Sex Pictures images offensive. In a way, Sherman deliberately made them offensive. The series were created, in part, as a response to the controversy surrounding the attempts of conservative legislators to punish the National Endowment of the Arts for providing some support to photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. In classic Cindy Sherman style, though, the photographs act on several levels simultaneously. They are a comment on the intersection of art and taste, they are a comment on pornography and the way porn objectifies the men and women who pose for it, they are a comment on social discomfort with overt sexuality, and they are a comment on the relationship between sex and violence. Yet the emphasis is still on creating a striking image that seems simultaneously familiar and strange.
Greg Fallis 

Untitled #250, 1992

My ideas are not developed before I actually do the pieces. It's good that you see it in that way. I never thought of the whole childhood thing and playing with dolls and dressing them up in regard to the newest work. For me it was out of boredom from using myself in the work, and feeling tied to that way of working. I became more interested and fascinated by the basics of what these prosthetic body parts were and I was just trying to use them without having to wear them myself. The whole series evolved from two mannequins — one female (the one positioned animal-like on all fours with the doll) and the other one male (the guy with the axe in the S-M scenario). These are the two most basic mannequins. It could almost be my other work except for the fact that they are mannequins and they are showing their sexual parts. I've done nothing abstract with the figure, and it's just a basic pose. I started out with these basic poses and it started to develop into different directions. I started taking apart the mannequins — just throwing body parts here and there. You know, if I wanted breasts I would just drape some breasts on the mannequin.

Untitled #264, 1992

By now, Sherman is completely absent from her work, replacing herself with mannequins and prosthetic body parts. While Eagleton discusses postmodernism’s preoccupation with body parts, such as “[m]angled members, [and] tormented torsos”, Brehm discloses that effigies are a recurrent motif in postmodern visual work, explaining that “this new ‘physical art’ sets out to question traditional images of the body and the human being”. Sherman’s mannequins are imitations of human beings, standing in to represent human life. Thus, the “idea of the individual is countered by a standardized replica of the body”, the mannequin, who is synonymous to all others and, as a depiction of humankind, denies the possibility of individuality and spiritual depth. Furthermore, mannequins are “already stamped with the sign of DEATH”, acting as a stony reminder of human corporeality, and enabling artists to explore their metaphoric doubt in “autonomous subjects… Rather, this construct is merely a philosophical and cultural mystification”.
Alison Gibbons