Part 3 Project 2 Masquerades Exercise 1
Nikki S. Lee
“The work I do always needs to involve others, and that’s mainly because of my views about my own identity. I realised I couldn’t understand who I am without the people around me. I believe that it is only through my relationships with others that I can see myself. The people around me allow me to fully express myself.”
Nikki S. Lee
I don’t personally see Lee’s work as voyeuristic or exploitative. I think she’s exploring her own identity through this work. Part of defining ourselves is in our comparing ourselves with others; working out what we are, and what we are not. Perhaps it gives her licence to explore more aspects to her identity than most people usually do – to explore her shadow side perhaps? She says in the video link above that she wanted to explore the lives of exotic dancers in New York, she wanted to represent them, and to do that she put in a lot of work to loose weight and to fit into the physical mould that an exotic dancer would be expected to conform to. So she is exploring the other by becoming it, and at the same time that helps her to understand more about herself. Lee used a professional make-up artist to help her become an elderly woman, she was confronted with the age gap and culture differences in her attempts to become a schoolgirl. It aids understanding of the group from her perspective, and perhaps by becoming a part of that group she has developed both an inside and an outside perspective of it which is obviously unusual. At the same time, we are reminded of ways that we unthinkingly conform to the group that we are a part of, and about how we look to others. About how our identity is judged and unpicked by visual cues.
Looking at Front on Morrissey’s website, her own statements about that work say that it is about boundaries. She took over the identity of a member of a group that had set up ‘temporary encampments’ or ‘marked out territories’. I suppose that our identities shift and that we mark out psychological space for ourselves, for our own egos, based on boundaries between us and others. Letting someone you don’t know use your clothes and take up your position in the group might actually be quite a difficult step, because although physical boundaries have been marked out, in this way psychological boundaries are actually being crossed and I think I would personally find that quite difficult. I suspect if I was approached I would go along with it, but I think that I’d perhaps feel a sense of fun but also one of an un-named discomfort that it would take some time for me to process. George Orwell comes to mind, when he talks about the creation of Comrade Ogilvy who replaces Comrade Withers.
“Comrade Ogilvy, who had never existed in the present, now existed in the past, and when once the act of forgery was forgotten, he would exist just as authentically, and upon the same evidence, as Charlemagne or Julius Caesar.”
Probably not what Morrissey had in mind, but it is the filling in of one person with another and the evidence is photographic. I suppose it brings up questions for the less confident among us (i.e. me), about our roles and how completely other people could fill them.
Watching a video of Morrissey on Vimeo, she explains part of her reasoning for self portraiture being that she turns up, she knows what she wants and there are no ethical considerations for her. I think that’s really important because it gives her freedom when she is not reliant on others to play roles for her, even the roles of themselves.
Some of my own images on a theme…