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A Probing Look at How We Perform and Present the Self

Show Me As I Want to Be Seen resists imposed and idealized models of being by probing the self — the unstable, performative essence of humanity — and bringing it to life with art.

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) and Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe), “Untitled [I am in training don’t kiss me]” (1927), gelatin silver print, 4 5/8 x 3 1/2 in. (Jersey Heritage Collection)
Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) and Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe), “Untitled [I am in training don’t kiss me]” (1927), gelatin silver print, 4 5/8 x 3 1/2 in. (Jersey Heritage Collection)

SAN FRANCISCO — One of social media’s greatest sources of power stems from the idea that being visible and being seen are one and the same, that the currency of being liked carries the purchase of being understood. It’s the dream of celebrity and also romance, that your audience will clap when you stop performing, that when waking up in the morning you are enough. It’s the fantasy that one can see past style through to one’s essence, as though style were the gloss and armor of a multifaceted self — not a persona, not an avatar, not a front. To be considered as strange and beautiful as art.

But art doesn’t exist outside of its frame and nobody exists outside of their person. At a time of gleefully cruel and brazen government, the personal has never been more political nor has one’s individual relation to power been more crudely obvious. It’s a dynamic that is compounded by social media, which balkanizes under the guise of building community, rewarding the hottest takes and most photogenic banalities over the messy dispatches of a full life.

Show Me As I Want to Be Seen at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) in San Francisco resists these imposed and idealized models of being by probing the self — the unstable, performative essence of humanity — and bringing it to life with art. The show, curated by Natasha Matteson, gains its richness from a paradox at the heart of selfhood. As Matteson writes in the catalogue of coming out, “claiming an identity category does not miraculously create a self that is fixed, contained, or knowable.” Or, as the artist Claude Cahun once exclaimed: “under this mask, another mask. I will never be finished removing all these faces.” (It should be noted that in February, when the show opened, activists staged a protest outside of the museum, claiming its embrace of the “unfixed self” and LGBTQ culture was its own kind of mask, a form of pink-washing its relationship to Israel.)

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) and Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe), “Untitled” [Portrait of Claude lying on leopard skin] (1939), gelatin silver print, 3 5/16 x 4 5/16 in. (Jersey Heritage Collection)
Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) and Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe), “Untitled” [Portrait of Claude lying on leopard skin] (1939), gelatin silver print, 3 5/16 x 4 5/16 in. (Jersey Heritage Collection)

Cahun and her partner Marcel Moore are the spiritual godmothers of the show. Their work, which encompassed experimental theatre, publishing, and political action, is represented in the show by photomontages from Cahun’s experimental anti-memoir Aveux non avenus and a series of hyper-stylized self-portraits that predate Cindy Sherman by decades.

Read the full review HERE >>>> Source: HyperAllergic A Probing Look at How We Perform and Present the Self