iD is a group exhibition by five international artists that revolves around the concept of identity. By taking different approaches to the subject matter, the works displayed in this exhibition reveal the sometimes unnoticed social, political and problematic nature of a concept that as sociologist Stuart Hill argues ‘’ [is] never complete, always in process and always constituted within, not outside, representation.’’ Identity, be it gender, sex, class or race related, should be seen as a social affair, subject to the influences and constraints of a wide range of opposing forces and a highly ambivalent and unstable concept always open to negotiation.
Risk Hazemkamp’s body of work finds itself in the intersection between identity and gender. The artist explores gender representation as a concept and as a signifying practice within a specific (Western) cultural context. In harmony with theorist Judith Butler, the artist questions the social and political construction of gender as a primary way to structure society. Taking mass media and popular visual language as a raw material, the artist playfully subverts those representational codes that are ultimately employed to convey notions of femaleness and maleness. Her work, which primarily comprises photography and video, emphasises the unstable, dynamic and fragmented nature of gender identity. Solitary Fruit, (2012) takes as a point of departure the journey the (white) American writer John Howard Griffin set out on as a black man through the Deep South in 1959. In this series, though, instead of travelling as a black, the artist travelled as a man. As in some other previous works, we find the artist completely dressed up with male clothes, including a substantial beard, and posing as if she were indeed a man. This work, though, not only addresses gender on a representational level but it also encapsulates the experience of travelling as a transvestite in a community historically known for being rather conservative when it comes to racial, sexual and gender minorities.
David Hancock’s series of watercolours explores the Cosplay subculture. Cosplay is a community of role players that not only painstakingly dress up and reproduce costumes of certain fictional characters stemming from manga and anime stories as well as from video games but also impersonate to the last detail, their behaviours, roles and poses. As the artist rightly argues, Cosplayers re-appropriate public spaces within their own imagination leaving aside those who are not part of the fantasy. Ervin Goffman’s notion of ‘publicly validated performances’ gains special meaning here because the Cosplayers’ targeted audience are only those able to acknowledge and affirm a shared cultural identity. This is why David Hancock’s Cosplayers seem so impenetrable; so distant so as if they were somewhere in between realities only accessible to the initiated. Be it as way of escapism or because of a disproportionate emotional attachment to such fictional characters, we find a community of individuals that for a moment of time, and in certain places (be they physical, digital or imagined) get rid of their day-to-day identities to fully impersonate the fictional the characters of their choice.
London-based American artist Sarah Baker’s body of work draws from a wide range of popular culture forms such as fashion magazines, television and advertisements. Her goal, though, is ambiguous. Does it have to do with our sometime inevitable attraction to glam culture and wealth or is it a manifest repulsion of it? Probably both, but the point here is the kind of critique she deploys to address the artificial nature of glam and celebrity culture. This kind of critique, which arguably owes much to the Situationists detourement, consists on subverting the strategies used by capitalism that ultimately creates the spectacular reality we live in. Sarah Baker’s work re-appropriates such mechanisms and redirects them against capitalism itself so as to undermine it from within. As the artist herself argues, her main goal is to re-enact, within her possibilities, certain forms of spectacle and the way it makes itself real in tabloids and other news media. That is why Sarah Baker’s body of work is Sarah Baker as a brand, as a prop—as an un-real celebrity. For this exhibition Sarah Baker showcases Limousine, 2007, a little social experiment in which the created persona of Sarah Baker the celebrity, alongside a copious entourage, visited some of the most exclusive and luxurious shops and boutiques in London. Here, the real and the artificial reach maximum tension. The outcome of this action was that most of the people she interacted with accepted her created persona as real and lavished her with all sorts of attentions and honours.
Caron Geary’s mask creates the Feral, a problematic figure that openly avoids easy categorisation based on race, sexuality, class or gender. To what extent do we rely on preconceived notions, social types and categories? Her work is an on-going exploration of how we position ourselves in relation with the Other. The two Feral Self-portraits, 2007 showcased in this exhibition are menacing to say the least, it is not only its defiant pose but also its totemic and primitivesque features that question the viewer to a degree of intimidation. Indeed, the troubled nature of her portraits becomes apparent when viewers realize that they don’t really know what they are looking at. The series Monstra Victoriana, 2010, made in collaboration with Helen Watkins, present a more gender recognisable figure whose poses are not only sensual and inviting but also elusive and somehow quirky. In Caron Geary’s figures there is no possible direct recognition because the Feral keeps retreating to its comfort zone— one that presupposes high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity. In British Cunt, 2008, Caron Geary is also concerned with issues of gender markedly with those notions of femininity that are ultimately shaped by the male gaze. She puts into question such standards and stereotypes that create the ideal image of women. As the artist argues, the harsher aesthetics challenge mainstream concepts of beauty and social conformism.
Fashion has always been a form of symbolic display. While in pre-modern societies it had to do with social status, nowadays it also relates to personal narratives and lifestyles. Brigitte Stepputtis’ body of work is deeply rooted in fashion and for this exhibition she showcases Photo Documentation, 2014 that consists on a series of model cards and other close up images of professional models before/after dressing and making up. In her own words, fashion has to do with imaginary identities projected over someone else’s. The model’s body becomes a sort of canvas but it is also the model’s ability to articulate such imaginary identities what creates the possibility to inscribe new narratives. Her first hands-on experience in the fashion world gives Brigitte the chance to develop this project that reflects on the intertwined relations between fashion and identity. Die Traumdeutung, 2014 is a collaborative project between the artist and the London-based studio ScanLab. For this project 3D scanner technology was deployed resulting in a video piece accompanied by a series of mesmerizing and highly enigmatic photographs. 3D scanner is a revolutionary tool that explores new possibilities to think of spaces and provides new ways to digitally represent them. For this occasion a human component was also included resulting in sculptural-like monumental figures that reveal their own fragility by sometimes fading away. It is the daunting shadow cast by the figures, though, what controls these images increasing the odd feeling of timelessness.