The portrait and the self-portrait have always played an integral role in the history of art. From prehistoric cave paintings to the conceptual photography of Cindy Sherman, through the Fayum Mummy portraits, the paintings of Rembrandt, Frida Kahlo, Marlène Dumas, the silk-screen prints of Andy Warhol, or the sculpture of Stephan Balkenhol – beyond memory, artists have continually felt the urge to portray the faces of their contemporaries, as well as their own.
The poet and artist Henri Michaux’s explanation for this, begins with the early drawings of children. From a tender age, pencil in hand, we trace figures which gradually reveal a circle within which is inscribed a rudimentary pair of eyes, a nose, a mouth and hair. “The linear mark left on the page reminds him of someone: the mother or the father. Man already. Man representing all men. Man himself.” Rapidly these drawings evolve to include representa- tions of the child himself and of other people – real and imaginary, known and unknown – beyond the mother-father nucleus; which in turn will originate an understanding of society and further still: of the world. A composite vision artists will continuously labour at in an effort to expand and refine; portraits and self-portraits echoing their worlds, their environ- ments and their stories like so many mirrors. Portraits and self-portraits also question the individual’s numerous facets, the security of his status, his identity (artistic, cultural, sexual etc.), his vision, and his perception and judgement of others and of himself. They inspire a profusion of feelings both complementary and contradictory. Disorder, recognition, rejec- tion, fear, empathy, doubt: the encounter between the observer and the subject is never benign. Before these portraits and self-portraits, we are reminded once again of man’s inherent and fascinating complexity. Before these portraits and self-portraits, we fluctuate between dissonance and harmony, alternate between the familiar and the unknown.
The exhibition Où poser la tête? (« where should I rest my head? »), is fashioned by individual experience and research and asks more than just one question. Who are you? Who am I? How do I depict you/myself? What are portraits and self-portraits trying to achieve? How should I position myself in the world? How do different styles inspire resistance and, if so, resistance to what? How do they highlight different claims? These works of art shepherd a discussion where poetic and political points of view meet and lock horns; and where the beholder is invited to explore different avenues of reflection: the portrait – a traditional art form; archiving; the body, intimacy, masks, and the performative self. The works document a constant ambiguity and a plurality nourished by movements and by occasional exceptions. Political questions span the exhibition, challenging identities, history, memory, and gender. Whether our approach is strict, informal, strictly informal, or informally strict, portraits and self-portraits express a drive: that of constantly rendering the body, identities, and ideas.