Memmott’s Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] is one of sixty pieces in the Electronic Literature Collection that easily distinguishes itself against other pieces by its use of combinatorial. Memmott takes 12 very well known self-portraits of artists dismantles them and reconstructs them into an unrecognizable new self-portrait. Each piece comes with a miniature biography of the original artist, which seems oddly out of place when the picture no longer matches its description. Memmott’s use of combinatorial automatically draws the eye to the distorted image making one question the reasoning behind the destruction of a self-portrait. If this is how an artist painted him/herself, why would anyone want to destroy that self-professed image? None the less, Memmott has recreated a virtual image of these dozen artists in an ever-evolving sensation of clicks, so one must take the time to examine whether he has or has not succeeded in portraying a new image of the artist through the use of combinatorial. The message portrayed by Memmott’s work is one of self-identity, self-awareness, and self-reflection. With each new image, the viewer questions the very image that they are seeing, which further emphasizes the actual process of identification. If the original artist’s portrait is lost, how can a new identity be formed? One click may bring the predominant image of Van Gough infused with Gauguin, whereas another click will bring Renoir infused with Goya. All of these complex and convoluted creations leave the viewer questioning Memmott’s use of technique to create meaningful identity. Despite using a technique that is only possible when one destroys another’s work, these misshapen facial portraits do leave a lasting impression and an insatiable sense of curiosity over what would happen if I clicked again?
I agree with Jen that the author, Talan Memmott, is playing with themes of identity in his piece, Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)], although my approach to the work was far more light-hearted. Instead of seeing an attempt by Memmott to destroy or break down the artist’s self-portrait, I saw instead a playful attempt to restructure the paintings and biographies, using easily accessible images and information to create new portraits and stories. Taking advantage of the electronic format, Memmott allows the reader to change history with each click, to humorous ends, creating a giant art history mash up. In one portrait Matisse was spending time with Andy Warhol, and Degas was the personal painter to the King of Spain in 1786 (Degas was not born until 1834). Van Gogh supposedly painted The Old Musician (actually painted by Manet) and Francisco Goya started out as a junk bonds trader whose “bohemian desires were incompatible with the business world”.
A moment of honesty: due to a personal bias regarding any literature that I have to read for school (even when I helped pick it out), it actually took me a couple of minutes before I caught the misinformation; I had just assumed it would be a few lines of boring facts so I wasn’t actually processing what I was reading; I assumed it was dry, factual and academic. It wasn’t until I read that Starry Night was painted by Renoir that it struck me that most of the information was incorrect. Being outsmarted by a piece of e-literature made me take notice. Fist bump, Memmott. Respect.
Back to business. As Jen said in her review above, if the original artist’s portrait is lost, how can a new identity be formed? I don’t think that Memmott is trying to create new identities for the artists; he is instead just creating compilations of digital information, but mixed up and out of order and randomly generated, to provoke the reader to see the errors in the biographies and portraits. It is easy to see they don’t work, or fit together properly. By seeing how wrong they are, that the portrait is cut and pasted or the facts are incorrect and topsy turvy, we can witness our own process of identification, as we recognize the artist by what he wasn’t rather than what he was.
1. In the author description, Talan Memmott states, “The piece deals with identity in an art-historical context, self-identity for any given artist, and identification as a process.” How does the electronic medium used by Memmott help him to convey this as opposed to more conventional literary or artistic formats?
2. Is there a line between using other’s work to create a new story and selective, or, in this case, “collaged” plagiarism? Are we more accepting of this because it is online? What does this say about the way we judge and value information online as opposed to newspapers, books, paintings, etc.?
3. Do you consider Memmott, the author of Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)], an artist? Is there a sense of artistic skill or craft in this work? Does new media technology change the definition of what an artist is in the commonly accepted sense? If so, how has the definition shifted?