Magazine article Artforum International

Vanessa Beecroft

Magazine article Artforum International

Vanessa Beecroft

Article excerpt

In her first exhibition, at a gallery in Milan two years ago, Vanessa Beecroft showed a group of drawings and a diary she had been keeping for over eight years. The diary contained obsessively detailed daily records of Beecroft's eating habits, accompanied by notes about, among other things, guilt feelings, psychiatric visits, comments on her parents, and quotations from Karl Marx. Immediate and intimate, the drawings served as private therapeutic responses to her diary-keeping and were originally never meant to be seen publicly. When Beecroft finally did decide to present these traces of her struggle with anorexia, she selected the audience, which was made up of women she had seen on the street; her only criteria were that they resemble her physically and have a "knowing, understanding" demeanor. In the gallery, Beecroft "corrected" these women's appearance by giving them special clothes to wear to make them more visually homogeneous, then asked them to respond with minimal movement and little noise for an indeterminate period of time to her works of self-disclosure. The result suggested something between Theater of the Absurd and '70s women's performance art, powerful female presence being tempered by an unfulfilled promise of action.

This type of orchestrated nonevent - Beecroft doppelgangers placed in a given situation with imposed limitations - has become the model for this artist's work. Her performances, in which she herself never appears, combine an open, improvisational style with a more structured formal vocabulary derived largely from the cinema. Framing, costuming, directing, and drawing attention to film's easy ability to translate reality into artifice, Beecroft takes cues from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard, and Roberto Rossellini, exemplars in the manipulation of cinematic conventions who blur fact and fiction to create something eerily familiar, even archetypal.

For Ein Blonder Traum (A blond dream), presented last year in Cologne, Beecroft dressed 30 women in underclothes, pullover sweaters, and blond wigs, and directed them to "be Edmund," the young protagonist in Rossellini's post-World War II oedipal drama Germany Year Zero. Her players were separated from the audience by a wall into which a large rectangular opening had been cut - her scene's frame. This setup allowed Beecroft to project her own identification with Edmund, her emblem of physical and moral weakness, onto her stand-ins, who in turn infused this identification with their own memories and knowledge. Without beginning, end, or narrative, the performance was pure spectacle, the actors standing only as signs of a symbolic and personal significance once (or more than once) removed. …

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