Thursday, April 14, 2011
J'adore this recent article in the NYT about the upcoming Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Costume Institute at the Met. The catalogue photographer, Solve Sundsbo, photographed the frocks on live models. But by using the familiar arts of photographic wizardry--make-up, lighting, and digital retouching--Sundsbo made the models look like dummy mannequins.
At the same time, Mr. Bolton [the curator of the exhibit] was intrigued by Mr. Sundsbo’s proposal to make models look like mannequins because it spoke to the blurring of boundaries — between good and evil, angels and demons, nature and technology, permanence and decay — that was a consistent theme of the McQueen collections. “The beauty of McQueen is that simultaneous feeling of awe and wonder mixed with fear and terror,” he said.
Bolton's quote echoes Freud's views on the uncanny, or the unheimlich--the sensation of wonder and terror when encountering something that is both intimately familiar and completely alien. Is the model a woman or a mannequin? Is she both?
The uncanny models, and the way they are used to highlight the porous boundaries evident in McQueen's oeuvre, recall the automata I'm writing about. In this instance, Sundsbo is using humans to appear artificial and undifferentiated, like those living statues one often finds in touristy pedestrian districts or at municipal festivals.
In my own work, I more often find the opposite: artificial copies of people that surpass nature's originals--especially at places that delineate boundaries, like entrances, tombs, and bridges. The effect is the same, however: delight, amazement, and a strong undercurrent of fear.