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‘It is a great advantage to a woman to be someone else’

Alphonse Karr, 1853


A few months before her death, and after a life in constant oscillation between social prestige, public ridicule and self-imposed exile, the Countess de Castiglione started working on a new project. She would show, during the forthcoming Exposition Universelle of 1900, nearly five hundred photographs of herself in a presentation called “The Most Beautiful Woman of the Century”. The project was never completed.


Concerned with issues around the persona of the Artist as Creator, but also the artist as entertainer and clown, Why Can’t I Be You is a construction of female identities and fashion stereotypes that revolves around the narcissism of the artist’s self and questions the production and power of beauty as rejection of the real. It is the Countess de Castiglione herself and her photographer’s work that Why Can’t I Be You is emulating.


Creating furore with her bold and visually arresting outfits, the endless and obsessive vanity of the Countess was legendary in the Imperial Court of Paris. The seductress of Napoleon III captured her schizophrenic repertoire of outfits in front of the photographer’s lens, leaving behind a legacy of images of her narcissistic wake.


The territory Why Can’t I Be You is set to explore is that of fashion imagery, with its allusive, unfinished narratives. Stylised poses of female models appropriated from magazines are selected for their artificial appearance; their identity removed and replaced with the artist’s one. Further use of collage, with references to fashion illustration, graphic design and fine art, creates a tangled web behind which the real self of the subject can be concealed.


In camouflaging the original documents, the process of cutting, photocopying and pasting has produced some strange metamorphoses creating an hybrid persona in celebration of Queer and Drag culture. As in a hall of mirrors, the projection of the multi-faceted self endlessly materialises and dissolves in the comedy of the never ending search for absolute beauty.


Why Can’t I Be You is a series of 50 collages produced between 2005 and 2006, each measuring approximately 42 x 29.7cm. The technique is a combination of magazine cuttings, photocopies, inkjet prints, coloured acetates and plastics mounted on board.


A selection of 25 works has been reproduced in digital inkjet print on fine art archival acid-free paper, each measuring 169x120cm.


Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1894,  © Musée d'Orsay, Paris

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