I would hope that these images would make people confront their own feelings about sex, pornography, or erotic images and their own bodies. Cindy Sherman.
In the 1993 ‘Sex Pictures’, Sherman considers similar themes to the ‘Disgust Pictures’. By now, Sherman is completely absent from her work, replacing herself with mannequins and prosthetic body parts. While Eagleton discusses postmodernism’s preoccupation with body parts, such as “[m]angled members, [and] tormented torsos” (Subjects, 69), Brehm discloses that effigies are a recurrent motif in postmodern visual work, explaining that “this new ‘physical art’ sets out to question traditional images of the body and the human being” (108). Sherman’s mannequins are imitations of human beings, standing in to represent human life. Thus, the “idea of the individual is countered by a standardized replica of the body” (Ibid. 110), the mannequin, who is synonymous to all others and, as a depiction of humankind, denies the possibility of individuality and spiritual depth. Furthermore, mannequins are “already stamped with the sign of DEATH” (Kantor 253), acting as a stony reminder of human corporeality, and enabling artists to explore their metaphoric doubt in “autonomous subjects… Rather, this construct is merely a philosophical and cultural mystification” (Jameson 168).
A good example is Untitled #258 (Sherman 206), in which a mannequin, seen from behind, lies on its front. This doll is fully assembled except for the genital area, which has been left empty, creating a gaping hole that reveals a hollow interior. This view, like the disgust images, perturbs the demarcation of inside and outside, while indicating “man’s degeneration into an empty shell, a thing” (Brehm 112). Sherman demythologises enlightenment conceptions of subjectivity, decentring them by using the artificial figure to expose the reality of human identity in its many contexts. This in turn “exposes us to the artificiality of what we call reality” (Ibid. 120), constantly threatening to cast attempts to define the self into ambiguity. Untitled #258 (Sherman 256) has additional implication for sexual identity. Even though the mannequin’s genital component is missing, the viewer cannot help but assume that the figure is female. The viewer’s inescapable association of the black hole with female genitalia divulges the extent to which binary sexual identities are embedded in the western cultural mindset. Certainly, conventional thought “links our genitals to our social position (as women or men)” (Jackson and Scott 14). Sherman progresses to challenge this in Untitled #263 (Sherman 212) with a mutilated, dislocated, hermaphrodite pelvis, on one side a penis, the other a vagina. In this image, Sherman dismantles the absolute categorisation of an either/or sexual identity. By depicting a body that is both male and female, Sherman contests social/sexual identity divides, “creating the kind of slippage that is meant, precisely, to blur their meaning, rather than to reify it, or better, to create meaning itself as blurred” (Krauss, Cindy Sherman, 208). In her postmodern art, Sherman creates images of identity that resist categorisation, thus keeping with postmodern dogma by representing the unrepresentable.
Therese Lichtenstein: Your work has always been engaged in the relationship between fantasy, play, and the world of gender and sexual stereotypes. The sense of process and play comes through in your last show in that the poses and arrangements of the mannequins, accoutrements and settings did not seem preconceived. It reminds me of how children play with dolls. Could you talk about how fantasy operates in your work and why you stopped using your own body?
Cindy Sherman: My ideas are not developed before I actually do the pieces. It’s good that you see it in that way. I never thought of the whole childhood thing and playing with dolls and dressing them up in regard to the newest work. For me it was out of boredom from using myself in the work, and feeling tied to that way of working. I became more interested and fascinated by the basics of what these prosthetic body parts were and I was just trying to use them without having to wear them myself. The whole series evolved from two mannequins — one female (the one positioned animal-like on all fours with the doll) and the other one male (the guy with the axe in the S-M scenario). These are the two most basic mannequins. It could almost be my other work except for the fact that they are mannequins and they are showing their sexual parts. I’ve done nothing abstract with the figure, and it’s just a basic pose. I started out with these basic poses and it started to develop into different directions. I started taking apart the mannequins — just throwing body parts here and there. You know, if I wanted breasts I would just drape some breasts on the mannequin.
Entrevista con Therese Lichtenstein en Journal of contemporary art.