Magazine article Artforum International

1000 Words: Cindy Sherman Talks about a Play of Selves, 1976

Magazine article Artforum International

1000 Words: Cindy Sherman Talks about a Play of Selves, 1976

Article excerpt

A PLAY IN FOUR ACTS (plus finale) with a cast of sixteen, A Play of Selves was first staged ... well, never. At least not exactly. Cindy Sherman completed the piece in 1976, when she was an undergraduate studying art at Buffalo State College in upstate New York and living above Hallwalls, the alternative space she had founded in 1974 with Robert Longo, Charlie Clough, and others. Having abandoned painting for photography, a medium that allowed her to enact a variety of private performances entirely for and by way of the camera, Sherman created seventy-two black-and-white tableaux that collectively articulate an austere but comic pantomime.

A Play of Selves tells the story of one woman's Sybilian encounter with herself in the face of an epic, doomed (and sometimes humorously overdetermined) love affair. In what is perhaps Sherman's only work that can accurately be described as "autobiographical," the young artist parses her psyche into discrete facets--"Desire," "Agony," and the "Broken Woman," among others--even as she simultaneously takes up every supporting role, including those of faceless love interest and geeky male narrator. Making the work was almost as laborious as producing a piece of live theater: Sherman drew a storyboard and wrote a script, took numerous photographs of herself in the guise of the various dramatis personae, and then meticulously cut and pasted the figures into scenes. After an initial showing at Hallwalls in 1976, A Play of Selves languished in storage until last November, when its scenes were nudged back into linear arrangement in the upstairs space at Metro Pictures in New York. With the benefit of hindsight, the work allows us--and Sherman herself--to consider the implications of what might be called a productively shattered ego. Lights, curtain ...

IT'S NICE TO SEE A Play of Selves again and feel that the piece is appreciated, but it's also embarrassing in a way, because some of it is really kind of corny. Thirty years ago, I was a young artist doing this really sincere work that was also really personal. It's just so completely different from what I've done since--not that my work hasn't been sincere, but it has never really been all that autobiographical or biographical again. On the other hand, A Play of Selves is also a thread into what I'm doing now, not only because I was already using myself in the images at that point, but also just in terms of the pure theatricality of it.

I think my work is more ironic now. Although I see some ironic tones in A Play of Selves, it seems more naive and sweet, which is why I guess it still sort of embarrasses me. It just seems like somebody putting everything out there for an audience to see. I was dealing with some personal issues with a boyfriend at the time--of course, everybody knows I was going out with Robert Longo, so that's really not so much of a secret. I came up with this idea to splinter myself into all these characters, which represented parts of myself and in some cases embodied emotions. There were also characters necessary to the plot, like the "Male Lover," and the main character's two friends, one a woman and the other a man. I was playing all the roles, and the costumes were pretty limited. The "Ideal Man" and the "Ideal Woman," for instance, wear the same mask, which is a cast of my own face. The only difference is that the "Ideal Man" has fake eyebrows and a mustache pasted on--he looks really sleazy, actually. …

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