Lorna Simpson’s text relations

This summer in Paris I visited an exhibition of American artist Lorna Simpson. It was her first retrospective, which showed her 30-years work and continuous conceptual research.

Lorna Simpson first became well-known in the mid-1980s for her large-scale photograph-and-text works that rethink the gender, identity, culture, history and memory. As an African-American woman, Simpson uses her origin to examine the ways in which gender and culture shape relationships and experiences of our lives in contemporary multi-racial world.

One of her first project was a series of photos presenting details of black women identity and appearance accompanied by words mean menace and abuse. And the last phrase is “feel the ground sliding from under you”, really accusing but images look elegant and simple. Her early photos don’t show faces. Lorna made portraits but she asked the question “who is the subject?”. So her work often portrays black women combined with text to express contemporary society’s relationship with race, ethnicity and sex.

Image

Necklines, 1989, 3 gelatin silver prints, 2 engraved plastic plaques, 174 x 177 cm overall

In the mid- 1990s, she began creating large multi-panel photographs printed on felt that depict the sites of public but unseen sexual encounters. That was Public sex series. Felt made images softer and similar to paintings. And so firstly you see beautiful but really simple images seemingly without the story, but texts help you. Texts tell you the story about those sexual encounters. But it’s more about memory than about sex.

Image

The Rock, 1995, Serigraph on 12 felt panels with 2 felt text panels, 100 1/2 x 89 1/2 inches overall

LEFT TEXT PANEL:
Female Trouble: Divine has just left home after
an argument over a Christmas gift, and
storms out of the hosue. She is picked up on the
highway by an auto-mechanic (played by
Divine). They approach a wooden area and have
frantic sez on a mattress, by the side of the
road.

RIGHT TEXT PANEL:
Driving all day long, has induced a hypnotic
state upon both of us. It is definitely time to pull
over. I recognize the state park that we are now
in the middle of, and can endure a few more
minutes of this drive in order to find the same
spot I went to last time I was here. Hoping that
this search will not turn into another journey,
since I didn’t make any mental notes of the sur-
roundings during my last visit, I’m ill prepared,
and not really wanting to appear too familiar
with the area. I make an effort this time to
commit this trip to memory. But here we are,
sick of driving. We get out of the car and start to
hike to find a spot and it will probably replace
the last one, completely. Haven’t seen any week-
end hikers for a while and since we are miles
away from any rest stops it seems plausible that
we will not be patrolled. I asked,
“How’s this?””Is it secluded enough for you?”

In her last works Lorna integrates herself as a subject in archival images. As Lorna Simpson explains first of all she works with memory and also she analyzes relations with text and its representation. For example Please remind me of who I am – series of photos from photo cabins dated by 1970th. It is the large series of self-portraits of different people sitting in the cabins, taking poses and Lorna’s self-portraits in the same style.

Lorna also has the other project made in the same way. Someday she bought 200 or 300 photos of one young woman from 1950s in different poses, clothes and mimicry and Lorna made the same photos in the same poses. So at the first moment you don’t see the difference, because Lorna copied the image of this woman. Two photos of that project initiated the video-installations one of which shows woman, playing chess and the other one shows man also playing chess. But every video shows five similar symmetric mirror-like images of woman and man with similar motions. It also looks like five different people playing chess, but later you understand that it is the same. So from this project Lorna began working with archive of photos by adding to it her own replicas of these images, posing herself to mimic the originals.

Image

1957-2009 Interior Group 1, 2009

Another her work Stereo Styles is about identity. She was collecting wigs for a long time and made photos of it accompanied by small stories about its owners. This project was made in Brooklyn at time when every second shop was a wig shop. It was the element of identification. And so it was the time when everyone could choose between natural hair and a wig, choose to save your natural identity or to invent it.

Image

Wigs II, 1996-2006, Waterless lithographs on felt

TEXT PANELS:

Image

Lorna works with image and text and she creates it in really intimate way. Her texts are made like poems in prose and it looks like fragment of script. But her texts strongly concerned with images and form fragile and sensible relations. She works in the genre of photography with text and also video-installation. She is interesting in storytelling and ways of this storytelling. In Lorna’s opinion, text can reinforce or reduce explanation of what can be expected.

by Mona Matveeva.

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