Post 9/11 fears addle artists
This is not a self-portrait is a phrase that functions to delineate a trend in photography, and a challenge to those who view it.
The trend: self-portraiture. The challenge: what, exactly, makes something a self-portrait, and why are we so drawn to them?
Jill Frank and Sean Fader were inspired to produce this show in 2006, when they noticed a surplus of self-portraiture in the SAIC and broader art community. The resultant exhibition, This is not a self-portrait, at Gallery 2 in West Loop, features the work of over 20 SAIC students working in a diverse variety of mediums, and is designed to investigate the reasons for the self-portraiture trend, while challenging the nature of the self-portrait itself. Is it as simple as the artist putting himself or herself in the work?
Sean Fader: The camera is now almost used as a weapon. Even in New York City, for example, you can’t photograph in public at all, I mean even if you’re a tourist The thing is, though, they’re not actually going to arrest anyone any one unless you look Arab. You know what I mean? The average white mid-western tourist could, I’m sure, go and do anything they want, no one’s going to bother them … but the second they look “Arab” in any way, they’re going to snatch you up. People are starting to view the camera as this, like, weapon of “mass destruction” that’s associated with terrorism. I think that fear has also encouraged an sense of interiority, in artists, to start exploring themselves in this context.
Tara Walker: What happens if we turn the weapon on ourselves?
SF: Exactly, and also, you know, Robert Clarke Davis, had this thing where someone tried to pull his film and he cursed the guy out and said something like, “This is why so many young artists aren’t photographing out in the world anymore. Because you’re telling me there’s something wrong with what I’m doing.”
Jill Frank: Robert Clarke Davis, he’s photo faculty … and he’s very opinionated. I think he would have something good to say about that … because that’s exactly what he said, you know, “Why the fuck are all the graduate students photographing themselves, or videotaping themselves?” It’s not for no reason. Something is changing.
SF: And something is pushing … I think the state of fear in America pushes you not only to be more interior, as an individual, but also to try to figure out why you’re in that focusing on yourself. And I guess that’s what we’re doing. Or … maybe we’re just lazy and can’t afford to hire models.
JF: I think it’s important that people know that Sean and I weren’t “curating”, in the traditional sense, like someone that has an agenda to become a career curator. Can I say “organizer” instead? Because we’ve put ourselves in the show, too. The larger thing I’m trying to convey is that we really just wanted to make a point.
SF: We didn’t organize it because we thought we were going to give the world an answer.
JF: We just wanted to put, in one room, every single person who was a graduate student making work that was considered self-portraiture. And we only rejected people that weren’t making self-portraiture.
SF: Everybody’s always asks me, what kind of work do you make? Do you make landscapes? Do you make portraits? Do you shoot people, or dogs? And I say, well, I photograph myself, mostly. And they say, oh, so you’re a self-portrait artist. And I say, no, well, I just happen to be in most of my pictures. But I’m not a self-portrait artist. Let’s open up that conversation to a larger audience. Let’s show all the different ways that people are not doing a self-portrait. Which is one reason why we called this, “This is not a self-portrait.”
This is not a self-portrait, Gallery 2, level 2, 847 W. Jackson Blvd., West Loop, Chicago. Also on show at Gallery 2 is the SAIC student exhibition, Do not disconnect. Closes October 20, 2007.