Čet 8.12.2016
Artikulacije imaginarnih identitet/Articulations of imaginary identities

The first part of the video  attempts to disrupt an apsurd idea that all women have bodies in the same way. The second part of the video "imagines a realm in between lives, where someone is considering whether or not to be born again into a new body, knowing all of the implications of that, knowing how many people in this world have bodies that are racialized or impoverished or perhaps don't, in some senses, fully have bodies at all."[1]

When considering these notions of body presence, whether it occurs solely through images, lets take it a step or two further. Digital body presence is very often manipulated and deconstructed, its presence is shaped by the limitations of a web. So what happens when the body is lost, and there is no vehicle for its representation?


This is actually often the case when artist creates their own alter ego, or a second voice. A voice that doesn't inevitably needs to be embedded within a body and voice that doesn't necessarily represent the voice of the artist. Rather, this second self is shaped by certain circumstances and carefully crafted in order to speak of things differently from its creator.  Therefore, despite of the fact that the imaginary Other comes from the same person, he or she represents a different possible identity that is missing, one that needs to be created and exposed somewhat. The body in such cases doesn't even matter, but rather the traces and marks of his or her work and actions gain the greater importance.


Make believe of identity brings in issues of geography, race, gender, class, even history. For example, one of characters created by artist Roee Rosen is Justine Frank(1900-1943), Jewish-Belgian Surrealist and pornographer. Justine Frank was born in Antwerp, lived in Paris and died in Tel Aviv. She was a Surrealist during the movement's most radical phase, yet even within that audacious circle they had a problem stomaching her artistic concoction of explicit erotic imagery and Jewish iconography.[2] Roee Rosen plays with this identity and often  leaves it up to viewer to decide whether Justine was real or imaginary. But it is through the character of Justine that Rosen can delve into another time and place, and from contemporary distance create a new world. Therefore, the imagined second voice doesn't have to be contemporary but can also be presented as someone who has already lived.


Moreover, as the Atlas Group conceived by Walid Raad shows, this imagined identity doesn't have to stand for a single author but it can also represent a whole collective. Raad created this fictional foundation in 1999 in order to research and document the contemporary history of Lebanon. Within the group, he produces artworks which he re-dates and attributes to various imagined figures. The Atlas Group maintained its documents, primarily notebooks, films, videotapes and photographs, in its self-titled archive, and invited scholars, community organisers, editors, and curators to research and exhibit these documents. The archive is also digitised, which adds another layer to realness of this fictional content. Actually, this delicate line between fiction and reality is crucial to play with, and especially interesting in relation to historical context.


Another famous imagined Lebanese is Bassam Ramlawi, Mounira Al Solh's alter ego, a contemporary Lebanese painter with whom she shares some biographical facts, as well as some art passions. They both grew up in the same street/neighborhood in Beirut, which is a highly dense neighborhood in which very diverse groups of people live. They both studied art in the Netherlands. And they both share passion for a Dutch painter René Daniel's paintings. They met by chance at the Westerpark in Amsterdam  while Bassam made a beautiful sketch of the homeless people who were sitting there. As Mounira Al Solh explained: "In his free time, he makes art. He is divided between «a universal painter», and a «local artist», from the Zariff neighbourhood." Furthermore, she explains that Bassam, despite of his daily job of helping in his father in the shop, still hasn't turned his back  on art. Instead, this fictive fact  speaks to the importance of continuing to work for the father, which is considered as part of their habitat. Curiously enough, Bassam often collaborates with Mounira, and they actually exhibit together, but they don't make the same work together. Moreover, there is a distinction in the medium: painting and drawing remains Bassam's primary focus. However, they both share interest in the everyday people whom they encounter. For Bassam this is perhaps more about painting them or drawing them, while for Mounira it is more about telling fragments of their stories. Perhaps it is out of this curiosity for storytelling that Bassam Ramlawi also came to be, as while he is fictional, his ways of being are quite real.


Though some artists tend to have only one second voice, some artists, like Nataša Berk, have various characters. She plays with their names, mediums and art techniques, and sometimes with gender too. From time to time she embodies the character herself, like she did with art historian Mojca Lešnik,  while some of  her characters never have a bodily, appearance. The way Nataša Berk imagines figures has more to do with their being present as artists and speaks more to the particular relations of art fields than historical or cultural issues. In contrast to Mounira Al Solh who, through Bassam Ramlawi, tackles specific historical and cultural backgrounds.


When it comes to the imagined identity of an artist, the voice is the most important aspect. The body is often completely ignored, while the presence and make believe are achieved through representational tools. Interestingly, it is exactly the how and what of representation which,  in the end, creates the reality of this identity. In a way, this attempt to give life to the non-existing could perhaps be understood in relation to the myth of Pygmalion, just with the difference that here it is not the embodiment of identity, but rather its articulation that matters.



  Irena Borić

[1]      Darling,  Jesse (2015) Artist Profile: Hannah Black. Retrieved from: https://rhizome.org/editorial/2015/feb/17/artist-profile-hannah-black/, 10 January 2017

[2]        E-flux (2009) Justine Frank (1900-1943): A Retrospective, Roee Rosen. Retrieved from: http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/38565/justine-frank-1900-1943-a-retrospective-roee-rosen/, 10 January 2017