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Beyond Likeness: An Exhibition Statement From Curator Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis cover

Beyond Likeness: An Exhibition Statement From Curator Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

One of the earliest known self-portraits is a chiseled couple selfie of an Egyptian sculptor and his wife. From ancient times to the present day, artists have turned to the most readily available model. During the Renaissance, Jan van Eyck’s natty turbaned self-portrait led to a flurry of artists capturing their own likenesses, including Sandro Botticelli, Flemish painter Catharina van Hemessen, and a bearded Leonardo DaVinci. A moody painting of El Greco and Rembrandt’s iconic “Self-Portrait with a Beret and Turned up Collar” paved the way for tortured canvases by Vincent Van Gogh. In the 20th century, self-reflective images by Frida Kahlo, Francis Bacon, Lucas Samaras, Nan Goldin, and Francesca Woodman foreshadowed our self-obsessed epoch to come. The artists in Beyond Likeness, selected from applicants for NOT REAL ART’s biennial grant, investigate the evolving role of self-portraiture in an era dominated by selfies, TikTok videos, and AI, and give it their unique stamp while paying homage to artists who came before them.

With the self as a launch point, the work in Beyond Likeness diverges in a provocative array of directions. Through performance, sculpture, painting, textiles, photography, and virtual reality, the artists weave narratives around themselves, both fictional and real, interact with familiar and hostile environments, make statements about gender roles, motherhood, and climate change, and assemble telling personal artifacts. In her performance “Corps Sans Organes,” Ibuki Kuramochi probes the “digitally mediated physicality” induced by the pandemic. Jules Tatham shares his struggles to fit in by photographing himself in a field of dandelions. Jess Self blends wax, wool, metal, and letters addressed to men with a life cast of her body to uncover personal archetypes. Brooke Shaden confronts her mortality by combining self-portrait nudes with sand, feathers, and dirt. Moving beyond likeness, the participants reveal, question, celebrate, and shape aspects of their personal, cultural, political, and sexual identities, in some cases without showing their faces at all.

View Beyond Likeness via the button below, then scroll down for details about the artists and their work.

Performance and Role-playing

Our seventh exhibition of 2024, Beyond Likeness, investigates the evolving role of self-portraiture in an era dominated by selfies, TikTok videos, and AI.
Corps sans Organes’ by Ibuki Kuramochi

Stemming from a tradition immortalized by Marina Abramović and Cindy Sherman, performance and role-playing add theater and movement to the exhibition. In the 360-degree virtual reality experience “Thirst Trap,” Danielle d’Amico comes face to face with viewers as she downs a fishbowl of water and weighs her options during an era of climate change. In the video performance “Hug,” Lauren Taylor Grad embraces a heated plaster sculpture while braving the elements on a frigid mountaintop to explore the innate human need to be comforted. Acting as her own model, Perrin Gathings creates costumes and sets from recycled materials to rein in waste in her mock fashion shoot, “The Dollhouse Collection.” “Fat, Femme, and Fierce,” a frank and elegant drawing of Louis Trujillo posing in a smoking jacket and heels, invites viewers to consider their own gender fluidity. Loralei Byatt’s billboard-sized triptych “Edible,” installed on a street in Detroit, reflects how women are perceived and devoured in a patriarchal society. Bonnie Crawford’s engaging Instagram photos of family and friends brushing their teeth address her role as a queer, single mother trying to hold things together through daily rituals and routines while offering moments of “universal relatability” to the viewer.

Belonging and Alienation

Our seventh exhibition of 2024, Beyond Likeness, investigates the evolving role of self-portraiture in an era dominated by selfies, TikTok videos, and AI.
‘Self-Portrait, Jules’ by Jules Tatham

A number of the artists in the exhibition use background and setting to either connect with their surroundings or set themselves apart. Jacqueline Andrews celebrates the communal spirit of quilt-making and her comfort with family and friends as she snuggles under a quilt illustrated with multiple pairs of eyes. Dagnim Josepha Yague poses against a vibrant backdrop of Togolese fabric to project strength and cultural belonging. In her shadowy figurative self-portraits, Sophie Hogan-Cytron navigates the boundary between safety and vulnerability while exploring emotionally resonant spaces. In his painting “A Discontinuous Being,” Angel Duran ponders the eerie isolation of city streets during the pandemic. Christian Bañez contemplates the shock of moving from the Philippines to a small town in rural Missouri while sitting forlornly in a cornfield. Juxtaposing her face with her sister’s mirrored reflection, Chantal Lesley shares the pressure they feel to define their ethnicity despite their multicultural roots.

Sculpture and Installation

Our seventh exhibition of 2024, Beyond Likeness, investigates the evolving role of self-portraiture in an era dominated by selfies, TikTok videos, and AI.
‘Withness’ by Jess Self

In a slightly less direct self-representational mode, the artists working in 3D express how they see and navigate the world through found objects, life casts, knitting, and sculpture. In the assemblage “I feel I have something to prove,” Andrew Snow carved verses of original poetry into a leather belt weighted with a dumbbell to explore the connections between ephemera with memory and euphoria and pain. Cassie Arnold’s fiber-based “Itty Bitties (Self Portrait),” featuring hand-knit nipples and breasts, plays with “taboo topics connected to life as a woman and caregiver” while offering intimate glimpses of the self. Brian Kasner’s transcendent shapeshifting sculpture “See Us” reveals faces from the LGBTQ+ community along with his own visage as viewers move around it, blending his journey of coming out with the shared experiences of others. Brian Oldham’s surreal hybrid self-portrait channels the Freudian madness of Buñuel and Breton.

Allegory and Allusion

Our seventh exhibition of 2024, Beyond Likeness, investigates the evolving role of self-portraiture in an era dominated by selfies, TikTok videos, and AI.
‘Coupled’ by Brooke Shaden

A final group of artists in Beyond Likeness weave historical, mythological, and spiritual references with personal narratives to allude to larger themes. Shayne Hull combines close-ups of his face with tools to contrast stereotypical conceptions of masculinity with human frailty and vulnerability. In the ornate Byzantine-style tableau, “Go Back and Get It,” Arit Emmanuela Etukudo blends spiritual and sensual elements to present an “ode to the fluidity and boundlessness of Blackness.” Masha Morgunova’s layered self-portrait trio merges the person she is now with her past and future selves to blur the edges between past and present and address the elusive passage of time. In “To be Nurtured,” Andi Avery projects self-portraits onto their body as a means of self-soothing. Rissa Martinez veils herself with translucent fabric in her emotive painting “Confined 1” to convey the numbness of PTSD and health-related trauma.

All photos published with permission of the artist(s); featured graphics for Beyond Likeness by David Schwartz.

Want to be featured on NOT REAL ART? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis is a writer, photographer, and former New York gallerist based in Richmond, Virginia. She has a masters in fine art, a BA in Russian literature, and is earning a masters in nonfiction writing at Johns Hopkins University, AAP.

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