Three works from the "Les Demoiselles" series by Cindy Workman (1961, New York, USA). The exhibition at Lennon, Weinberg in Chelsea, NYC runs from January 25 – March 3, 2007. If you can, go see them, because the above reproductions can't convey the beauty of these works. They are large-format, shiny prints that almost offer the illusions of a collage with depth.
Cindy Workman breaks new ground in her current series of works devoted to images of women. The figures are large, frontal, and are formally and conceptually at the center of the compositions to a greater degree than the works seen in her prior exhibitions at Lennon, Weinberg.
Harvested from an immense number of images of women available via photographs, publications and online, Workman selects from the recent past. Drawings from the envelopes of sewing patterns provide idealized girls, demure in their frocks and bows, while soft-core nudes offer prominent breasts, come-hither poses and an occasional odd accoutrement like plastic panties. Adjusted in scale and digitally collaged, the source images yield conjoined figures of mixed dominance. Through a delicately calibrated range of opacity and transparency, the illustrated girls and photographed women vie for dominance in these figures. Despite the duality of their woman-child appearance, however, her women appear more fully as individuals than Workman’s earlier evocations of female archetypes. These portraits are powerful presences.
In the early 1990s and well before the scanner, computer and printer became her chosen tools, Workman used traditional collage and assemblage methods to examine socially assigned and culturally reinforced gender identities. Her series “The American Family” incorporated photographs of her own family with images of Popeye, Superman and their female counterparts in the comics in constructions of impeccable design and execution. In this and other works, she asks:
“What does it really mean to be a “mother” and how is that different from being a “wife” or “sister” or “daughter” or one cohesive “self” incorporating all of these fragmented identities? Because identity constantly changes and shifts depending on whom a person is interacting with and what role is being played, reality can never be fully realized in one instant and is constantly being reinvented.”
Freed from the constraints of physical assemblage, Workman was able to generate more complex, nuanced compositions in works that followed and to avail herself of a wider range of sources and references. For a time the work became more sexually explicit, about which she says, “I have been exploring the influence of sexual experience on identity and self-esteem. Individual reactions to and interpretations of sexual experience become inextricably linked to a person’s core identity.”
Workman’s compositions are inflected with the style and appearance of classic Pop-art era works and enriched with ideas associated with postmodern appropriation. Woven into her current works are multiple strands of inquiry about issues as diverse as age-appropriate appearance, plastic surgery, the questionable truthfulness of photography and technologies of printed reproduction. At a time when the internet provides virtual reality in online societies such as Second Life where participants create and furnish avatars with whatever identity they wish, Workman reflects upon the degree to which our freedom to construct an identity is shaped and restricted by social and historical boundaries.