With one exception, each of the applications written by Gillian’s sobjects attests to a radical mind-body makeover, for example the fat girl gains confidence and loses weight and the oddball boy realizes that weird is wonderful. Their stories are tales of private and public humiliations (the boy whose “sexy” snaps were plastered all over school by the girl he loved; the fat girl whose shame triggered epileptic fits), writ small and banal and terrible in their tiny tortures. Salvation comes by way of equally public redemption: to “prove everyone that I ‘can’ look sexy and pass as a model!” (Dominik, 2008). Or, simply: “to be envied by others.” (Anne-Marie, 2008)
Literary critic Sianne Ngai has noted that “it is through envy that a subject asserts the goodness and desirability of precisely that which he or she does not have, and explicitly at the cost of surrendering any claim to moral high-mindedness or superiority.”5 In his 1972 book Ways of Seeing, John Berger writes about glamour: “Publicity [advertising] is never a celebration of a pleasure-in-itself. Publicity is always about the future buyer. It offers him an image of himself made glamorous by the product or opportunity it is trying to sell. The image then makes him envious of himself as he might be. Yet what makes this self-which-he-might-be enviable? The envy of others. Publicity is about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by others. The happiness of being envied is glamour.”6 But Wearing’s glamorous sobjects have incorporated the projected envy of others into an even deeper happiness: the envy of oneself by oneself. In Pin-Ups, the sobject articulates the desirability of that which it now possesses, confirming that the experience of the objective world is also a universally subjective characteristic. It is important here that the sobject speak, because it is this tendering of self as self-made that plugs the gap between what is imagined and what is real. Unlike the Freudian folly that Duchamp put under glass, there is no longer any sublimation of desire once desire has been directly inscribed in the Self as Thing As it turns out, in response to Freud’s query “What do women want?,” “what” is what women (and men) want.7 It is also important that this speech be handwritten, signaling how language will be written into a picture that has been itself rewritten. Rewritten into a photo that has been turned into a painting that looks Photoshopped. The one false note in Wearing’s project is the fact that the letters and snapshots are inside the box and the imago is on the outside. But there is no inside and outside, simply a hinge, the shutter that snaps open and closed. To be envied by oneself as an other, and as a self by others—to become that which is desired by way of desire and to live to tell the tale—is our post-Lacanian wet dream.
- Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 34.↵
- John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books Ltd., 1972), 132.↵
- I ’m using “what” in the dictionary sense of the word—the true nature of something, the sum of its properties. Parveen Adams’s essay, “Operation Orlan,” considers how the false divide between subject and object was enacted in Orlan’s La Réincarnation de Sainte-Orlan (1990-1993), in which the artist underwent nine plastic surgery-performances, broadcast live to audiences in Paris, Toronto, New York, and Calgary. Orlan designed her surgeries to remake her face into a composite face of the ideal woman, as represented by man. For the surgeon’s template, Orlan used (Da Vinci’s) Mona Lisa’s forehead, (School of Fontainebleau’s) Diana’s nose, (Gustave Moreau’s) Europa’s mouth, (Botticelli’s) Venus’s chin, and (Francois Pascal Simon Gerard’s) Psyche’s eyes. Orlan was conscious during the proceedings, answering telephone calls and faxes about the performance throughout the operation. Adams keenly observes that Orlan’s work, particularly the moment where the face is pulled away from the head, shows that “the image is a mask and that there is nothing behind it.” (The Emptiness of the Image [New York: Routledge, 1996] 153.) Wearing’s project updates this enactment by showing that the image is a mask and there is an image of a mask behind it. Just as Wearing has repeatedly utilized masks (literally) in her past work, including Confess All on Video. Don’t Worry You Will Be in Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian (1994), a video series of people confessing to former vices while wearing comic or distorting masks.↵