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First solo exhibition by performance artist Narcissister opens at Envoy Enterprises
Narcissister, Untitled (afro), 2012. C-print, 40 x 30 inches. Edition of 2, 1AP. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and envoy enterprises, New York.

By: Barbara Browning

NEW YORK, NY.- Is it possible for narcissism to be a collective strategy? Even a political act?

Narcissister is You, the first solo exhibition by performance artist Narcissister, explores the possibilities of identification through the act of self-reflection and self-love. The term “narcissism” as used colloquially usually indicates excessive self-interest, often at the cost of a concern with the feelings or realities of others. Freud posited two forms of narcissism: “primary” or “normal” narcissism, which is a necessary phase of self-love fundamental to the development of psychic health, and “secondary” narcissism, which would be a pathological extension of the impulse to its extreme. But in the works in this show (of self-portraiture, of video curation, and of participatory sculpture), Narcissister challenges us to explore whether we might enter into her own radically extended narcissistic construct in order to find something of the agency she has found in the mirror.

Narcissister’s self-portraits evoke a tradition of feminist self-portraiture from Claude Cahun and Maya Deren to Orlan and Cindy Sherman. However, by always appearing behind her mask, Narcissister insistently and blank-facedly super-produces a figure that, through its repetition, becomes as familiar as our own image in the mirror. The mask itself bears the traces of her performance work (cracks, stains, damage), but it’s difficult to say what such a mask covers, and what it reveals.

Her collective video project – curated but unedited, allowing for any willing participant to “be” Narcissister in her or his own terms – might also evoke prior female conceptual artists (i.e. Yoko Ono, Adrian Piper, and Sophie Calle) who have invited the participation of spectators, and yet by allowing us to identify with her own narcissistic self-construct, Narcissister shares not only the artistic process, but also the pleasure of identification with her as the creator and admirer of her own beauty.

Finally, her sculptural installation asks you, the viewer, to identify with her image in the mirror. Lacan describes the “mirror stage” as the moment we first encounter the Other, which ironically we will continually attempt to identify as the self. What is it we love when we fall in love with ourselves in Narcissister’s image, when we admire our/her beauty despite every possible baring of the fictionality of the construct?

Do these works extend the mirror stage, or short-circuit it? Does our enjoyment of them constitute a relinquishing of agency in the service of Narcissister’s self-interest, or might it be a collective, even political act that moves us toward understanding that, in the words of Slavoj Žižek, “the ‘original’ subjective gesture, the gesture constitutive of subjectivity, is not that of autonomously ‘doing something,’ but rather that of the primordial substitution, of withdrawing and letting another do it for me, in my place?”

Put yourself in her place.

Narcissister is a Brooklyn-based artist and performer. Wearing mask and merkin, she works at the intersection of performance art, burlesque, dance, and visual art. She actively integrates her prior experience as a professional dancer and commercial artist with her current art practices in a range of creative media, including collage, photography, video art, and music. In addition to being a featured performer at The Box, she has presented work in New York at The New Museum, The Kitchen, and at Abrons Art Center and at many nightclubs, galleries, and alternative art spaces. Narcissister was a re-performer of Marina Abramovic’s Luminosity piece as part of The Artist is Present retrospective at MoMA. Narcissister has also presented her work internationally at the Music Biennale in Zagreb, Croatia, at Chicks on Speed’s Girl Monster Festival, at The Festival of Women in Ljubljana, Slovania, at Warehouse 09, Copenhagen’s first live art festival, and at the Camp/Anti-Camp festival in Berlin, among many others. Her art videos have also been included in gallery shows and film festivals worldwide. Her film The Self-Gratifier won an award for “Best Use of a Sex Toy” at The 2008 Good Vibrations Erotic Film Festival. Interested in troubling the divide between popular entertainment and experimental art, Narcissister appeared on America’s Got Talent in 2011. Narcissister is currently in FORE at The Studio Museum and will present a new evening-length work at Abrons Art Center in March 2013.

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