Mauritius-born British artist Lindsay Seers (1966) is mostly known for turning herself into a living camera and taking pictures with the photographic paper clamped between her teeth. The effect is, literally, blood-red images, exposed by the light passing through her cheeks. Most of her works use restrained colour; they may look like negatives or, indeed, be experiments with real negatives.
Seers constantly questions the photographic medium and its methods; a critique of photography has moved her to reflect on how identity is constructed by memory, different structures of power (the colonial gaze and gender), and other social and political constructs. Her investigation of identity and interest in costumes are in line with such artists as Virginia Oldoini, Claude Cahun, and Cindy Sherman – and the reference to female photographers is no coincidence. Even if Seers does not make the female voice a subject per se, the way she constructs stories suggests a conscious use of empowerment strategies. These are often subtle and humorous – she likes to play with the viewer and visual conventions – and as I enter the exhibition Vanishing Twin (tetragametic chimeris) at Fotogalleriet in Oslo, I’m conscious of this.
At first, my attention is drawn to a composition of twenty-two portraits presented at the back wall. Smiling men and women of various ages look directly at the viewer. Some of the faces are presented upside down or in a horizontal position, yet they keep that direct gaze. The concept seems simple. The images were taken in daylight, focusing on the face. However, narrowed pupils and distinct irises suggest another source of light, as well as the artist’s real interest: the fact that all of the subjects have eyes with two different colours.
From another wall, a rather nice and honest looking man observes the viewer in what amounts to the twenty-third portrait in the exhibition, Michael (2018–19). The title’s caption, however, reads: No, No… I didn’t kill him. …Just beat him to a pulp. For sure, his appearance is not that of a murderer, but since 1840, when Hippolite Bayard pictured himself as a drowned man, we have known that photography tells lies, or – to be more precise – tells stories. Lindsay Seers takes this literally and seriously. I treat Michael’s ‘words’ as comment on image, identity and representation.
The film Vanishing Twin (2018–2019) is projected in a frame clearly suggesting a mobile phone. Here, people with two different eye colours talk about their experiences in between animations of simple forms, shapes, and, indeed, eyeballs, moving on the screen like in a video game. The screen seems overloaded. At some point, the voices merge, and words and meanings shift into senseless noise. While waiting for new content, I automatically feel like swiping the projection screen. This intense and paradoxical situation reveals the limitations of contemporary perception, and how we come to lose our identity in the redundancy of the visual. How can we find a solution to this?
The answer could be to arbitrarily attribute meaning to the signs around us. In the video tetragametic chimerism (2018–2019), people tell which number they consider most significant and give their various explanations. The artist’s choice is twenty-three, which is a number that appears on several levels in this exhibition. It is also, according to Sigmund Freud, the number of psychoanalytical sessions necessary for the process of recovery. Magic seems appealing, but does it cure? In 3 Minute Wonder Series (2010), a second answer appears, this time presented on a small television screen. This is a must-see work, as it provides a summary of the artist’s different periods, inspirations, and biography. Here, an episode from Lindsay’s early childhood occurs. She did not speak until nearly the age of eight. Instead, she had an incredible visual memory, which got lost when she uttered her first word. As she says in the film, “I didn’t speak to speaking, being was enough.” What she seems to say is that words have meaning as long as they refer to an actual experience – moments of constituting identity. The same could be said about images. However, images today no longer refer to experience, which has been replaced by the act of taking pictures and browsing them. Identity vanishes in a simulacrum of representations that seem to never touch the real. Contemporary images are empty, and therefore, too easily absorb dominant, manipulative narratives. That’s why even naïve and silly images might not be that innocent after all.
In The Vanishing Twin, the artist tries to reverse order and ask: if images have the power to deconstruct identity, then can they also create it? People with different eye colours are presented as a counter-community much in the same way as science ‘creates’ communities based on race or gender. In this way, the artist’s preference for restrained or inverted photography is clarified: if the positive image is vulnerable and invaded by manipulative discourses, then maybe the negative can protect the real, or at least be more resistant.
This text was originally published with the author’s previous name, Zofia Cielatkowska.