“Self Portraits(s) [as Other(s)]” by Talan Memmott

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“Self Portraits(s) [as Other(s)]” by Talan Memmott

Talan Memmott’s 2003 work Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] situates itself within an art historical context by presumably introducing the reader to self-portraits of artists from between 1756 to 1954, allowing the reader to simply click through what might conventionally pass for a mundane educational presentation.

However, the piece playfully interrupts the reader’s expectation of a staid presentation of artists and their accompanying bibliographies by presenting these images as unrecognizable collages accompanied by bibliographies that are themselves a mosaic of mixed information; some true, some false, and some attributable to other artists included within the piece.  Should the reader scroll over the image, text becomes visible and adds yet another layer to the collage. In doing so, Self Portrait(s) forces the reader to reassess how they choose to orient themselves with regard to the combination of text and image within a setting wherein they might presume a certain amount of factual knowledge already. Given the fact that neither the image nor the text allows for any absolute recognition, the reader stumbles at first and is forced to choose whether to invest a certain amount of belief in the text over the image or in the image over the text.  That is, the reader is led to question whether the image helps influence and situate the text that the reader consumes, or vice versa.

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By doing so, Memmott’s piece interrupts conventional readings and thoughtfully brings to the forefront numerous questions about the manner in which we engage with art, text and history. The piece engages with the notion of artistic influence having a visible effect through the ages, as well as the fact that the creation of a social or artistic identity enters the artist, as well as the reader, into an already present world that is itself already a collage or a mosaic of events, languages, identities, and social influences. It leads the reader to question (and eventually acknowledge) that any notion of historical or factual information provided in this manner (even outside of this piece) function as a skewed set of suppositions that are always themselves questionable and form only part of the story. Self portraits, whether critical or idealized, cannot be viewed outside of a certain acknowledgement of narrative positioning, of othering. The fact that these self-portraits in either image or text are made unrecognizable does not simply indicate Memmott’s choice to present this jumble of information, but also leads the reader to acknowledge that any presumably “factual” information is itself also creating a form of narrative positioning, a manner of memorializing that can in itself be false. And in doing so, it enacts a playful critique of the manner in which art history itself is positioned.

Featured in The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1.

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