STEVENSON is pleased to present There’s glitter in my soup!, an exhibition of new work by Steven Cohen.
Cohen’s new series of self-portraits, intimately crafted using make-up, are an extension of his three-decade long performance practice. Incorporating make-up, glitter, butterfly wings and Cohen’s DNA, they bear the memory of these performances, both as physical residue and as testament to the meditative practices undertaken pre- and post-performance. As such, There’s glitter in my soup! offers the face as something both extraverted and inhabited.
The artist writes:
The birth of this idea to remove my make-up with adhesive tape came at an elegant museum supper one night 10 years ago, with an accusing glare followed by a rebuke from across the dinner table: ‘There’s glitter in my soup!’
I had just finished performing. I was embarrassed. In my bag, I had a roll of duct tape, and I used it there and then to remove the glittered make-up from my face. It was efficient. There is a real relief in peeling off the eyelashes – eyelashes are pointe shoes for the eyes. After that, the breakdown of the make-up using pressure-sensitive adhesive tape became part of my post-performance ritual.
I apply my make-up for hours with a pathological dose of patience and a plethora of glue. The breakdown of it this way is sudden and full of sensation. Removing the make-up leaves me feeling pulled and slapped and plucked and stripped. After the ritual of de-facing my cosmetically enhanced performance self, I feel gently flayed and beyond fragile ... as naked as the bare bones of a depowdered butterfly wing. It is strange to make a work by unmaking one.
There is a lot of discomfort and sometimes some pain in each of these self-portraits, but there is also a consoling serenity born of art lived out and performance accomplished ... palimpsest in the sense of it being made for one purpose and subsequently re-used for another.
In every tape self-portrait is a lot of being looked at – but also a lot of being looked out at from. The energy of the experience of being in the make-up is trapped in, and suspended by, the ultra-adhesive nature of the archival tape, every bit as much as are the chemicals of the make-up or of the powder-like tiny scales of the butterfly wings ... held fast in trust for time to come.
These tape faces are a process, an action literally stuck in time. Camouflage cream, powder, glitter, lipstick, sweat, DNA, some skin cells ... and a whole lot of skill and patience is embedded in what we are looking at – 50 years and three hours of savoir faire.
I am sort of startled to see this side of my make-up mask, the in-side. I only know my painted face in representation or reflection, photographs or mirror. Now as a result of this art-making process, I see the actuality of the ‘make’ standing ‘up’ for itself in the transition from 3D to 2D, from motion to fixedness in the reveal of its real. What used to be supported by resting against my skin has now become the independent façade of itself. The destruction of the artwork is in itself the creation of a new one. The doing is in the undoing ... and vice versa.
It’s not a mask, it’s an interface.
This is Cohen’s fourth exhibition with Stevenson, following put your heart under your feet … and walk! in 2017.
Cohen exhibits concurrently with Nelly Guambe.
The exhibitions open on Saturday 9 November from 10am to 1pm. The Johannesburg gallery closes on Friday 13 December and reopens on Monday 6 January.