Is it possible for narcissism to be a collective strategy? Even a political act?
“Narcissister is You” explores the possibilities of identification through the act of self-reflection and self-love. The term “narcissism” as used colloquially usually indicates excessive self-interest, often at the cost of a concern with the feelings or realities of others. Freud posited two forms of narcissism: “primary” or “normal” narcissism, which is a necessary phase of self-love fundamental to the development of psychic health, and “secondary” narcissism, which would be a pathological extension of the impulse to its extreme. But in the works in this show (of self-portraiture, of video curation, and of participatory sculpture), Narcissister challenges us to explore whether we might enter into her own radically extended narcissistic construct in order to find something of the agency she has found in the mirror.
Narcissister’s self-portraits evoke a tradition of feminist self-portraiture from Claude Cahun and Maya Deren to Orlan and Cindy Sherman. But by always appearing behind her mask, Narcissister insistently and blank-facedly super-produces a figure that, through its repetition, becomes as familiar as our own image in the mirror. The mask itself bears the traces of her performance work (cracks, stains, damage), but it’s difficult to say what such a mask covers, and what it reveals.
Her collective video project - curated but unedited, allowing for any willing participant to “be” Narcissister in her or his own terms - might also evoke prior female conceptual artists (Yoko Ono, Adrian Piper, Sophie Calle) who have invited the participation of spectators, and yet by allowing us to identify with her own narcissistic self-construct, Narcissister shares not only the artistic process, but also the pleasure of identification with her as the creator and admirer of her own beauty.
Finally, her sculptural installation asks you, the viewer, to identify with her image in the mirror. Lacan describes the “mirror stage” as the moment we first encounter the Other, which ironically we will continually attempt to identify as the self. What is it we love when we fall in love with ourselves in Narcissister’s image, when we admire our/her beauty despite every possible baring of the fictionality of the construct?
Do these works extend the mirror stage, or short-circuit it? Does our enjoyment of them constitute a relinquishing of agency in the service of Narcissister’s self-interest, or might it be a collective, even political act that moves us toward understanding that, in the words of Slavoj Žižek, “the ‘original’ subjective gesture, the gesture constitutive of subjectivity, is not that of autonomously ‘doing something,’ but rather that of the primordial substitution, of withdrawing and letting another do it for me, in my place?”
Put yourself in her place.
-Barbara Browning, 2013