Art & Statement: The Changing Room by Sarah Halpern
The work in this show relates to three main themes; physical transformation, projection, and dualism (or multiple simultaneous meanings as in a pun). My dad used to always make the same joke. If you were about to leave the house but weren’t quite ready, and said something like, ‘ok just give me a minute, I need to go change’. He would respond ‘Don’t change, I like you just the way you are’.
The joke being that ‘change’ was taken literally to mean a significant transformation of identity, rather than just a clean shirt. The title of this show is a pun, suggesting both a room where one tries on clothes, looks in the mirror and examines oneself, as well as a room that actually transforms those who enter it; a woman goes into a changing room to try on a new dress and when she emerges, her being has permanently, significantly altered.
Chapters is a two sided projection; one from the film projector onto the screen of the laptop and one from inside the laptop, out onto its own screen. The laptop is both a screen and a monitor with a keyboard. The laptop is bathed in light and so transformed, the projector is in darkness, but is also the main source of light. Here,The Leopard is used as source material; both the 1958 novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and the 1963 Luchino Visconti film. The story of the disintegrating aristocracy during the time of the Italian Risorgimento is used as a metaphor for the shifting dominance of one medium over another throughout the last hundred years; from printed books, to films to computers. The famous ballroom scene from the 1963 film has been said to be a metaphor for the end of the Prince’s (the central character’s) life, dawn being his death. This piece extends the metaphor to relate film with a physical, mechanical, living body. Video is the afterlife, digitally immaterial and weightless.
Chapters is divided by the surface of the screen where the video and film images meet. This relates back to the changing room; the surface of the screen being like the glass surface of a mirror. The mirror in a changing room is the dividing line between the present and the future. For example; a woman presently tries on a dress. In the mirror she sees her reflection, in combination with her own imagined self wearing the dress after she has bought it. Here the moment of change takes place on the surface of the mirror.
Silence also contains a similar dividing line. The men and women are in two rooms separated by glass, so there is little possibility for communication. Here the men look at the women, but the women are all white and it is not possible for the men to see who they really are. Perhaps the women’s white bodies are projection screens, and so the men can project themselves onto the women. Or perhaps the men’s bodies, all in black, are shadows of the women’s bodies. Or perhaps they are all looking at reflections of themselves.
Many of these pieces include segments of text taken from a copy of The Bride Wore Black (Cornell Woolrich, 1940). The main character in this story disguises herself as a different person in each chapter of the book. She is able to ensnare various male victims by first identifying who they might want her to be, and then by imitating that idealized woman. While working on these collages I also read Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison, 1952). The main character in this novel, who remains nameless throughout, is so consistently misunderstood and mis-identified, that he describes himself as being literally invisible. These themes are present throughout the show, wherein faces are removed entirely. Figures appear white (so they may be projected upon) or blacked out (so they may be very difficult to see at all). Many figures are also composed only of outlines, as though they might be just leftover impressions of people who are no longer there.
One last note; currently I am thinking a lot about transformation and dualism because I’m pregnant. My body is obviously changing a lot and at the moment I am acutally two people! I got pregnant after I made most of this work, but it’s on my mind and seems relevant so I thought I’d mention it here.
“The Changing Room” will be on view at Microscope Gallery, 221 Madison St.
New York, NY 10002, from October 23 – November 29, 2015.
Acid Rain’s Art & Statement series places artwork alongside the artists own words in an effort to distribute and promote artists’ writings and a greater understanding of contemporary processes and ideas.