The artworks in Hide and Seek: Projecting, Portraying, and Playing with Identity examine the evolution of portraiture as a platform for capturing how we construct and project our identities within both the analog and digital worlds we inhabit. Formed both in reaction and in response to our personal experiences, the identities we conceive and share allow us to navigate the world, alternately shielding or highlighting our vulnerability. Sampling from histories near and far by way of literature, film, social media, YouTube, blogs, and online forums, the artists in this exhibition subvert conventional images of power and beauty, and reinvent portraiture as a tool for exploring the poignant precarity and power of the contemporary human condition.
Who are you?
Where do you come from?
What do you desire?
These age-old questions we pose to ourselves and to others resonate with heightened poignancy in a time when persistent global disruptions interrupt connections between and within communities and individuals. Responding to the threats of disease, civil strife, and climate crises, we hide from one another yet seek out new forms of communication and intimacy, new ways of establishing—and changing—identity. Hide and Seek: Projecting, Portraying, and Playing with Identity examines the evolution of portraiture as a platform for capturing how we construct and project our identities within the rapidly changing and precarious analog and digital worlds we inhabit.
Formed both in reaction to lived and imagined experiences, the identities we conceive and share alternately shield or reveal our vulnerablities. Social media, YouTube, blogs, and online forums provide unprecedented access to a vast array of cultural influences that inform contemporary portraiture. Paul Anthony Smith obscures the identity of the figure in Port Antonio Market #2, simultaneously disguising one part in order to reveal and release another; Christian Schoeler’s enigmatic portraits of friends and acquaintances capture emotion, embrace nostalgia, and expose the vulnerability of the human essence; and Ain Cocke’s romantic painting of soldiers considers the complexities of masculinity and intimacy in times of war. The players and projections from imagined worlds represent both our fears and fantasies: Franco and Eva Mattes’s photographs of avatars from the simulated world of Second Life present confident, synthetic versions of identity, while Kim Joon’s digitally constructed figures explore themes of desire, memory, and taboo.
As one of the oldest art historical genres, portraiture has always been political: the faces of the wealthy and powerful are enshrined in art museums and textbooks—and now excavated, exposed, and transformed as material and metaphor. In Self-Portrait with Goya, Albano Afonso layered his own self-portrait behind a reproduction of Goya’s painting, perforating the reproduction so that part of his figure appears through the centuries-old image: the screen-like pattern creates an interface between past and present projections of identity. One of a series of 30 works in which Afonso combines his likeness with an iconic historical portrait, certain elements of the image gain intense clarity– significantly, the artist’s eyes appear directly behind the eyes of the patron who commissioned the original work. Goya occupies the bottom left of the frame; his form, like those of the other figures seen here, is punctured with dots, a practice Afonso uses to both destabilize identity and interrogate history and art history. CutUp’s pixeltated portrait of a young person is an interrogation of the systems of power that control people and behavior. Using a British Anti-Social Behavior Order (ASBO) bus shelter sign, CutUp removes the text and political references, stripping the sign of its original meaning and reconstructing the images of the urban landscape. From 1998 until its repeal in 2014, ASBOs were penal codes in Great Britian that sought to curb loitering, fare dodging, graffiti and wheatpasting, littering, begging, and vandalism, among other things, and they were often issued to youth for small infractions. By stripping these posters that promoted ASBOs of their original meaning, CutUp effectively questions the effectiveness of punitive systems and processes meant to control behavior. Ain Cocke appropriates historical portraits of World War I and II-era soldiers, transforming their likeness into romantic figures in lush, colorful landscapes. The title The Secret of the Garden directly refers to the artist’s interest in male intimacy, masculinity, and how those concepts have been constructed as opposites. By juxtaposing figures in wartime clothing with flamboyant colors and surroundings, the artist considers the greater complexities of manhood and the relationships between men, in friendship, in duty, and in love.
History and memory, both personal and collective, inform the work of Alex Hernández, Valérie Belin, and Tom Butler who obscure their figures to reveal deeper, cultural truths. Appropriating the idealized faces of 1950s and 1960s celebrity, Hernández overlays his “models” with geometric lines and shapes measuring the symmetry of the subjects’ features, alluding to how one nation or society visualizes the identity of another as a stereotype—in this case, how American culture was imagined, exploited, and emptied of meaning in Cuba in the mid-20th century. These portraits combine references to social aspirations now obsolete, with a critique of the systems of surveillance and control under which everyday subjects become “witnesses” to potential abuses of power. Belin’s double exposure portraits weave flesh and flowers together, highlighting the artifice of the woman’s polished mask and upending the stereotypes of women as decoration. The painted gouache masks that Butler imagines for the characters of his anonymous, found, Victorian cabinet cards, play with identity and memory. “I find the process of concealment inherently performative, and that in the process of hiding you actually end up revealing something about yourself,” explains Butler. “We have to play a role to behave appropriately…we wear clothes to signify specific group identities that enable us to do our jobs (a grey suit is a costume that practically makes you invisible), or we find a good pillar to lean against when the room gets too crowded. That’s partly what I’m playing with in this work.”
Disguising and revealing one’s self can take many forms. Minkyung Kim’s series of Camouflagued Selves presents digitally enhanced figures against brightly patterned, fabric backgrounds. Each figure looks away, their hair covered in the same or similar fabrics as their background, alternately allowing them to blend into or stand apart from their surroundings. In contrast, Pieter Hugo’s portrait of Obechukwu Nwoye, a Nigerian actor in full costume, confronts the viewer with direct eye contact. Straddling the hyper-local sets of the Nollywood film industry, and the costumes and make-up influenced by time periods and places far way, the constructed scenes and stories of the world’s third largest film industry produces a uniquely Nigerian artform, what South African curator Federica Angelucci describes as a “rare instance of self-representation.” Kim Joon’s digitally constructed images explore themes of desire, memory, and the taboo—especially as it relates to tattoos. In Joon’s native South Korea, tattoo parlors are illegal and people who have tattoos are often treated like second-class citizens. In Fragile – Herend, fragments of porcelain figurines covered in brightly colored flowers reference the handpainted porcelain from Herend, Hungary. Joon uses Herend porcelain to draw comparisons between the beauty and preciousness of handpainted designs on porcelain bodies and the skill and intricacy of tatoos on human bodies.The figure in Paul Anthony Smith’s Port
Antonio Market #2 is disguised with a shimmering mask created by small incisions, a French technique known as picotage. The artist creates work that explores his autobiography as well as issues of identity within the African diaspora, references W.E.B. Dubois’s concept of double-consciousness, the effects of colonialism, and alludes to African rituals and likens his picotage artmaking techniques to scarification. Removed from the original context from which the photograph was taken, the title references the artist’s hometown in Jamaica before he and his family relocated to the U.S. Hiding rather than revealing, Smith sees the act of disguising identity as a way to connect with a hidden nature; “You get this spirit, nobody knows who you are, it comes with this sort of power,” Smith says.
For Leticia Quesenberry, Christian Schoeler, Manuel Calderon, and Stephen Irwin, the obscured and fragmented images of the human form provides a platform for capturing emotion, embracing nostalgia, and revealing vulnerability and desire. Quesenberry charts the evolution of her psyche and her art practice in peeled, a series of images derived from daily Polaroids taken over the course of a summer long past—a project undertaken in the midst of a difficult breakup. When Kodak terminated the production of Polaroid film, Quesenberry retrieved the photos, pulled them apart and printed the hazy, interior images on aluminum, affixing and aligning memory and media. Schoeler’s paintings of friends and acquaintances accentuate human vulnerability by capturing the essence of a person in moments of introspection. “It’s definitely not about representing a specific person through their individual properties,” he said. “I am interested in the surface of the model, in the faint, incorporeal mist which escapes from their bodies, in the film which envelops them.” Calderon’s strange, shadowy landscapes suggest unearthly spaces, windswept and desolate. In his quest to search for the limits of landscape and of utopia, the artist has constructed a horizon line from the magnified curves and dips of the human body, rendering the fine lines, shadows and smooth expanses into limitless, celestial spaces. Irwin’s untitled portraits are distorted reproductions from pornographic magazines, crumpled and frozen in resin. Portions of their faces are preserved, visible and unscathed, while other parts are warped and pulled, hinting at the difficulty of preserving memory, pleasure, and desire.
Time, like memory, is fleeting and often undefinable. Portraits by Sara Olshansky, Anthony Goicolea, and Sebastiaan Bremer obscure chronological order and question the primacy of memory. Goicolea’s Bed Ridden, a time-lapse image of a young man confined to his bed, is purposely ambiguous: the hatch marks on the headboard may signify pain or pleasure, tallying the passage of time during his illness or providing a record of romantic encounters. The boy’s figure appears in multiple: limbs intertwining and transparent, at times seeming to melt or morph together. Olshansky’s single and double portraits suggest movement, a condensed experience of past, present, and future. As Olshansky explains, the drawing, like memory “forgets” the erased spaces and “remembers” the marks that remain. In Ave Maria 3, Sebastiaan Bremer returns to an image of his wife Andrea when she was twenty-three years old, enlarging and embellishing it with swirling lines and marks that reference the automatic drawing of the Surrealists, the gaps inherent in memory, and the pixelated, mathematically-derived appearance of some digital media.
Assembling identity in a global, digital age requires integrating projections and perceptions of self and others across real and virtual platforms, inspiring material and metaphoric transformations that respond to the influence of different media on the creation of our identities. Slater Bradley and Ed Lachman’s video installation, Dead Ringer, takes its inspiration from Dark Blood (1993), a Hollywood film that was not released until 2012 due to the untimely death of its star, River Phoenix. The series is derived from Lachman’s memories of filming the original film, combined with Bradley’s complex identification with the late actor as both subject and symbol. Christoph Draeger’s ghostly onscreen duet is a superimposition of Gus Van Sant’s frame-by-frame, line-by-line re-creation of Psycho (1998) over the original Alfred Hitchcock film (1960). Draeger’s resulting film, Schizo (2004), intensifies Van Sant’s complex identification with Hitchcock’s creative and directorial identities, creating a film that is both haunting and frenetic.The dystopian world populated by children and animals in Pestana and Cunliffe’s Desarraigo [Uproot], merges fantasy with fact in a multi-media meditation on the legacy of social and economic upheaval that took place in the artists’ native Peru beginning in 1969.
The film resembles a historical documentary; the imagined narrative seems within the realm of present or future possibilities.
Today, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTock, and other forms of social media extend our cultural fascination with celebrity and perpetuate an illusion of universal connectivity—that everyone is accessible; their lives and identities can be shared with our own. The individual self may easily merge or evolve into fractions of the identities we admire and those we create to project and exchange online, like the avatars that Eva and Franco Mattes photographed on Second Life. Launched in 2003, Second Life is an online world built completely by the users/residents, where humans create online personas who can interact with each other, build homes and businesses, and can purchase body parts, hairstyles, facial features, cars, lamps and furniture to amplify or improve the lives of their online personas. “The very act of calling it a virtual world is wrong,” Franco says when explaining Second Life. “It’s synthetic, but it’s an actual world that is no less real than the phone conversation we’re having right now.”
In a constant state of projecting and connecting, how and what do we understand about ourselves and others? Dada Khanyisa’s triple portrait shows three people connecting—or not—over glasses of wine; one talks on the phone while another smokes a cigarette and looks out distractedly. “You hold the phone the whole day, so you can’t ignore it. It’s also about being true to the times, documenting the times,” Khanyisa explains. The artist regularly pulls images from Facebook event posts for night clubs and images from magazines for inspiration for their works. “It’s about going out culture, but also going in culture—as in going into the self. And when you go in with yourself it’s easier to understand how you relate with others.” At a time when innermost thoughts are shared with anyone and everyone on social media, and entirely new lives can be constructed and lived online, Joana Choumali’s mixed media embroidery works are like a “quiet diary.” Influenced by the urban light and environs of her early morning walks, Trapped Soul presents a young person several stories tall, leaning casually against a building as the light from their phone envelopes their entire face. “For me, working on recreating those images of beauty that I find around me, in those busy and lively towns of
Africa such as Abidjan and Accra, is also a way of breaking the misconception that you can only find poetry in ordered, clean and solitary places.”
Combining embroidery and collage on a digital photo, Choumali’s work captures the contradictions and the precarity of how we construct our identities and connect with others under current conditions. The figure is hidden within a vast city, and immersed in the endless realm of possibilities within the light of a digital device, seeking, as we all do, to be seen and to see, to imagine and to forge, human intimacy and understanding.