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An anecdote and an examination


Doubling as Myself 

MSunday. selfie mask. c.1987, 3The man I was seeing  had a small son who went through a phase of referring to me as a witch. My good humor was wearing thinner with each weekend visit. It was October, sputtering sleet outdoors, and Halloween meant costumes that could be managed with big overcoats, hats and boots, for kids Trick-or-Treating and for grown-ups getting to parties. We agreed the grown-ups would go with masks only: our friend, Jerry, would wear the rubber gorilla mask, which, in other years, “went with” his buy-one-get-one wedding dress; Steve had a hard plastic Frankenstein mask that fit underneath his everyday cap; and I had to come up with something. It was obvious to me, if not to the others—just what kind of witch was I?

I too was in a phase those days—a self-portrait phase—and for reference, I had made a plaster-bandage mold of my face. The more I thought about witches, the more intrigued I became with the dichotomy of the witch and the innocent, one hidden within the other. A mask is possibly the ultimate metaphor, the second skin: I would go as myself—a tad contrast-heightened for night-time viewing.

The night’s Trick-or-Treators trickled out early, the sitter showed up, and the guys had their coats on. I came downstairs wearing my mask—our maiden voyage— “For gods’ sake, Mae-gret, put on a hat.” Steve said. 

My yellow beret arranged atop and hair just so, covering the cast-paper edge of my mask, I was set to go out, when four-year-old Aaron came running at me full steam, yelling, “What is it!” 

I said, in the calm, reasoned tone of my expressionless mask, “Aaron, I thought I would go as myself.” 

Then the hammering high and hard as he could reach with his little fists, a kind of hug to assure it was me inside the mask, and punishment, too, for a grown-up world when it isn’t right, “Take it off!”

 —m. sunday


 An Examination with Christine Laffer

C. L:   Finally finding words that begin to open the Selfie out from a singular social configuration. It still ties to the self-portrait but goes further, branching off in ways that the self-portrait would not. I found a way via philosophy because that is how I encounter new thoughts aside from my time at the loom or when drawing. Here is a rough map….

 Simulacra— images that appear to convey reality based on appearance but are based on a system of differences rather than sameness. The simulacrum is artificial (does not attempt to be true to reality) and does not pretend to be an exact copy, in fact relies on distortion.
Photographs toy with this idea because the underlying urge claims it is a machine that copies reality. Post-modernity undercut that assumption. (See also “Definitions/ Simulacra”.) The Selfie relies on that undercut. For the Selfie a real representation is not possible. The Selfie distorts and moves through updates such that each Selfie ceases to exist as an example. Social participation allows the changes/mutations/distortions possible in each instance of a Selfie so that differences become more obvious and reveal fluidity which portraits only wish they could do.
M.S:  Your mention of “a singular social configuration” makes me think of something Sarah Swett wrote in an email—that a thing is physically altered by simply being viewed. A further explanation runs: on a subatomic level a thing can’t be observed without being disturbed. According to this idea, any work of art, whether in original or replicated form, will become a slightly changed object whenever it is viewed, moved, discussed, reproduced and so forth. Each change, of course, is a distortion. I think of an infinitely regenerating image—Selfie—being like an image passed through a house of mirrors, each reflection a slight distortion of the previous.
If portraits could be more fluid, mutable (life-like?), how would that affect the artists who love and seek refuge in idealized, timeless imagery?  Those who prefer a controlled, fixed reality in art?
 C. L:   Question—what kinds of objects/images are ordinarily associated with simulacra?  Other than photography, film or theater?


M.S:   I am making theater/film/ photography connections like: suspension of disbelief, smoke-and-mirrors, illusion (magic tricks rely on distortion—a sophisticated understanding of perception which allows it to be manipulated via its natural consequence, distortion); and, relating to portraits and Selfies, I’m thinking about automatons, puppets, wax figures… effigy figures, fascinating because they arouse emotional responses in humans, while clearly being fake. These representations might look convincing, but they wouldn’t smell like people. (How many of the senses are applied in determining distortion?) I like to read about the history of photography, especially how it cross-fertilized with other arts, because the nature of perception (and distortion) is acted out so concretely in the stories of those early experiments.



There is an art history term, which I have lost—it means the phenomenon of one medium imitating the formal attributes of another medium. An example is when pottery was made to look like woven basketry. This occurs when the imitative medium is in its nascent stages and has not yet developed its own formal vocabulary. The change in medium would be an obvious distortion (one could not kiln-fire a basket—for long), although the resemblance would also be obvious.          ?       morph?? This concept relates to the historical orders of simulacra.


 next: automatons, stuck in the mirror, me and my selfie, definitions, the uncanny valley, symmetries—why weave?

2 thoughts on “simulacra

  1. I love this whole conversational format between the two of you here….and now you’ve helped point me in a whole new direction in my own train of thought (why am I weaving a portrait, what is it about…and on and on.) Thanks for helping me think more deeply this evening.


    1. Thinking about distortion–did I hear this right? On NPR yesterday someone was saying that the spin-axis of planet Earth is moving about one meter per year, and although this has been going on for about 5 million years, human impact on climate patterns in the present time is accelerating the phenomenon?? If this is so, the matrix is ever skewing.


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