Exercise – masquerades

  • Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?
  • Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?
  • Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.

Nikki S. Lee

According to this site, “after introducing herself as an artist, she spends time with the group and has her photograph taken by a friend or group member with an automatic snapshot camera”. The site continues to explain that Lee “uses this process to explore issues of identity and social behaviour”.

This may be the case, however while researching Lee’s work, I stumbled across a short documentary (see here) in which she states quite clearly that she’s not interested in documenting people’s lives. From the video, I got a strong sense that Lee is only really interested in Lee, and I believe in that sense she is in fact exploiting people even though they are aware of what she is doing.

Trish Morrissey

In an article by Sarah Phillips for The Guardian (see here), Morrissey is quoted as saying “I ask strangers if I can become a member of their family. The person I replace takes the picture”.

Morrissey’s approach is quite different from Lee since she is not using deception. Her approach has to be transparent, and while I find it slightly odd, I would not have a problem agreeing. I can imagine a lot of people having issues agreeing. There might be concerns about somehow a stranger taking their place. I think it’s important to keep in mind the end result: it’s a respectful blending of Morrissey into the scene. Investigating more of her work, it became clear that she has an ability to create scenes and put herself into them in a convincing way, but I always sense that she does it in a respectful way.

The series Seven Years is especially well done: she re-creates scenes from the 60s, 70s and 80s in a realistic way with her always in the scene, but usually with others. Her sensitivity to fashion (using the word loosely), hairstyles, furniture, even postures is astonishing.

On her website, Morrissey provides quite a long artist’s statement about The Failed Realist (see here).  The title apparently comes from a psychology term to describe a child’s developmental stage when want they want to express is beyond their physical skills. The face paintings were done by Morrissey’s daughter when she was between four and five years old and show different motifs depending on the daughter’s recent experience.

This was a case where the text helped me enormously to understand the work. On purpose, I looked through the images before reading the statement. I was a little lost to say the least. I could see a link between the painted face and the title, but sometimes only vaguely and occasionally it was very tenuous. The text provided the crucial context I needed to understand that what was a shared rainy day activity was turned into something else: a very personal record of her daughter’s development and I can imagine a memory of a joyful time.


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