Thursday, August 19, 2010

Exhibiting Artist: Alexandra Ben Abba

Glass Haircut is a post-glass artist's rendition of giving herself a haircut. Using fire from molten glass as her scissor, the artist burns her hair to achieve the desired length and style.

In a strange displacement from everyday life, every expression on her face is evidence to the smell of burning hair; the careful gestures of her fingers imply the hot and dangerous substance touching her body....almost. The glowing goo at the end of a metal rod looks mysterious, especially to those who are not familiar with glassblowing. It is only the smoke coming from the hair that implies what this material is.

With all external references to the immediate, physical environment removed (perhaps a glassmaking studio), the video's composition uses its reference to the "Black" or Claude Mirror well. An oddity today, the Claude Lorrain Mirror is made of black glass, slightly convex, and produces a reduced, upright reflection. It was used by landscape painters in the 18-19th centuries to concentrate on form, line and perspective by suppressing color saturation and muting tonal values. The black mirror was a pre-photographic optical instrument, a virtual reality device of sorts. It edited a natural scene in very specific ways to make it easier for the artist to focus on drawing what was important to the scene.
By removing all evidence of her immediate physical background, Ben Abba does something similar. She creates a black mirror that directs the attention of the viewer to a very specific scene. She transforms what would otherwise be read as a reflective surface to one that absorbs her image. Her reflection is now, an actor in spotlight on a stage, the subject of a "moving painting" and not someone standing plainly at front of a mirror.

In this way, she uses digital video to reclaim and manipulate the optical space of the mirror. In a sense, the mirror becomes the protagonist who captures the performer's transformation, her sense of calm and conviction in the end when she is happy with the results. As she tosses her hair about and walks off with a smile, one wonders about a curious pattern this work falls into : the tendencies of post-glass artists to subject their bodies to wierd ways of doing something normal (in this case, getting a pretty haircut).

A significant number of artists, many featured on this blog since 2009, seem to subject their bodies to strange interactions with glass. These individuals are women. Is this mere coincidence? Is there an increased engagement of feminine body politics in a field that has historically been characterized by machismo? Glass Haircut is representative of these questions while presents an awkward yet tantalizing choreography of what would otherwise be mundane and normal.

And of course, the observation made above about women post-glass artists will be discussed further in the days to come.

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