Momenta Art is pleased to present a dual exhibition TO SELVES: Joy Episalla and Susan Silas, comprised of photographic and video self-portraiture by two female artists. The act of self-portraiture is a performative self-creation both for the artists and their potential audience. While there is a tendency to dismiss the gaze turned toward the self as narcissistic navel gazing, others, such as artist/writer Catherine Lord, take a different perspective. According to Lord, “I didn’t mean narcissism as necessarily a negative thing. Why can’t women (especially) undertake to investigate themselves by making images of themselves without that charge? It seems to me that thinking about oneself at length is a form of entitlement. so why not claim that?” Sharing her perspective with Lord, Silas also claims that “after decades of feminist discourse and political engagement, women making images of themselves is still an act with political ramifications.”
The self-portraits titled motion series and blur series by Joy Episalla included in this exhibition were initiated in 1992, when Episalla started to collect her own hair as a visceral response to the loss of many friends from AIDS. As the pile of hair grew, she began to crochet it. The sculpture took on a conical form, expanding into a widening spiral. In 2011, seeking to re-incorporate the lost material back into herself, she began using the sculpture as an appendage or prosthesis in her self-portraits.
Using daydreaming as a working method, Episalla performed for the camera with this sculptural appendage in a trance-like state over a period of about 8 hours, using the camera’s self-timer to capture the images. In both series she documents her performance for the camera without seeing the recorded self-representations as she is performing. The result is a series of fugitive and amorphous self-portraits that trace her motion, blurring recognition.
Susan Silas’s work in this exhibition is her most recent attempt to turn the camera on herself, peering closely at her aging female body in an act of self-intimacy with her own reflection in the mirror. In untitled video, naked, Silas’s face and upper torso slowly slide across the surface of the mirror, her lips nearly brushing the surface. Her slow movement is disrupted only by the sound of the camera shutter. Accompanying the self-portraits with mirror are two photographs of plaster casts of her face. One was cast in 1992 and another in 2012. Resembling death masks, they are frozen snapshots of the artist’s own decay.
Both artists utilize the act of self-portraiture as an exercise of agency through performative self-creation. If the performative creation and presentation of the self is the exercise of political agency, what are the specific social and political subjectivities they embody through their work? This exhibition leaves this complex question open to the viewer.
Joy Episalla is a multi-disciplinary artist working in the interstices of photography, video, and sculpture. She has been showing in New York since the 80s. She has exhibited widely in both the United States and in Europe and has had several international solo shows in Brussels, London and Hannover. Episalla’s work has been featured in group exhibitions at the Centrale for Contemporary Art Brussels, the Mannheimer Kunstverein, Mercer Union, the International Center of Photography, The Wexner Center, White Columns, and Artists Space among other venues. She is a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation recipient and has been awarded fellowships from The Corporation of Yaddo, Braziers Workshop UK, and Fenenin El-Rahhal/Nomadic Artists International Summit, Western Desert and Cairo, Egypt. Her work has been critically praised in Art in America, the New Yorker, Time Out/New York, the Boston Globe, and Artforum, and is included in the collections of The Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Episalla is a longtime AIDS activist and founding member of the lesbian art collective fierce pussy. She currently lives and works in New York City.
Susan Silas uses photographic images, video, and writing to explore the collision of personal experience with over-determining historical events. She had her first solo exhibition at fiction/nonfiction in New York City in 1990. In 1998, Silas retraced the steps of a 1945 death march. This project, Helmbrechts walk, 1998-2003 has been shown at The Koffler Gallery in Toronto, Hebrew Union College Museum in New York City, Kunstverein Grafschaft Bentheim in Germany, Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna, and the Center for Contemporary Art, in Slovenia. Helmbrechts walk is the subject of chapters in both Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory by Brett Ashley Kaplan and Memory Affects; The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary Witnessing by Dora Apel. Her most recent work on the Shoah is a six channel video installation: Treblinka Song and The Happy Wanderer. Her current work looks at the middle-aged female face and body in photographs, plaster casts and in an ongoing diary: love in the ruins; sex over 50. Her work has been featured in Anti-Utopias, Camera Austria, Fotómúvészet and Artnet Magazine and reviewed in Artforum, Art in America, the Village Voice and the New Yorker. She is an essayist, a regular contributor to Hyperallergic and co-editor of the artblog MOMMY. Silas has been awarded fellowships at Everglades National Park, The MacDowell Colony, The Corporation of Yaddo, VCCA, and Ucross Foundation. Silas received her MFA at California Institute of the Arts. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
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