Are you looking at me? (Hysteria part II)

In my previous post, I left it saying that what deserves most careful attention and examination of the works in this Cindy Sherman exhibition currently on view at MoMA is this arduous struggle and the ambivalent tension between the self and the other. By that I mean, in all her images, while using herself as the subject or vehicle (if you will), Cindy Sherman presents an counter-ego or perhaps at times a super-ego of herself. To go beyond the aforementioned counter-ego or super-ego, for this post, I want to take the idea to another direction that is her ability to socially critique the different "types" of women whom we see everyday but here (through Cindy Sherman's images) they each embody very distinct characteristics and personalities with intensified visual identities. 

Image courtesy

How Cindy manages to critique different social classes is by presenting these absurd portraits of overly-tanned women while attaching them to unique visual characteristics of which help us identify them. In these images that represent different notions of beauty, affluence, knowledge or patriotism by (decoration) and etc., they deliberately seem superficial and empty.  This superficiality but more precisely the void of a lack-of-self seems to serve to define the shallowness of certain aspects of our contemporary culture. It is under the social constrain and pressure of instantaneous gratification and immediate comprehension without further time-consuming understanding of the other that these women feel compelled to pile "it" all on whether cosmetically on the face or "fashionably" on the body, and in most cases both.

All image courtesy
At the core of her critique is the absurd-which is to say that instead of looking beautiful, or wealthy or smart, they end up looking rather over-the-top and all but failed to convey the characters' original intentions. This brings me to a little side-note and a bit of advice is that subtlety lies in the heart of beauty and mind. In other words, one needn't show it all at once to impress, better yet, timing, let them get to know you little by little. First entice coyly, then charge!!!

All jokes aside, the notion of beauty is all but subjective as these portraits clearly tell us. For example, one of my favorites is this image of the woman in an rather elegant asymmetric dress. Sadly, somehow even with such a minimal design she manages to screw up the whole look. Instead of timeless elegance the impression of gaudiness and lack-of-sophistication rather becomes the focus of this individual.

All image courtesy

Upon gazing at these portraits, the eye inevitably goes to the individuals' faces. There, we see the problem is already beginning to present itself as a symptom of excess. Which is to say, these images are suggesting that more is not better but more is rather nauseatingly grotesque. However, in the minds of these women, more is more and size certainly does matter. But is this what our culture is aiming for, that it encourages us to achieve abundance at all cost in order to impress or perhaps to get attention? This is up for debate.

I would say that Cindy Sherman is not only attempting to uncover some kind of feminine issue here, but also one that is much more universal than you would think. At least in Western culture and in an economically-driven society, greed is not frowned upon but rather praised. What but praise and admiration are these woman trying to get out of us when they look at us? In so many words or so much make-up and accessories, they are screaming "look at me, praise me and envy me."


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