Un-portraits harness the energy of destruction and can (but don’t always) convert this into a creative force for good.
Some favourite thoughts on defacement:
“Making portraits is a response to the natural human tendency to think about oneself, of oneself in relation to others” – Richard Brilliant
“Defacement works on objects the way jokes work on language, bringing out their inherent magic nowhere more so than when those objects have become routinized and social…” – Michael Taussig
“Something so strange emanates from the wound of sacrilege wrought by desecration” – Michael Taussig
“By obscuring a face (or later, a body part) Baldessari was able to erase individuality and transform a specific person into an obscure object.” – The Guggenheim Museum
In The Destruction of Art (1997) Gamboni writes more about the political function of a portrait of a sovereign as a “paradigm of the symbolizing power of images”. Use and misuse, suggests Gamboni, can easily determine each other: “it is because images are used to express, impose and legitimize a power that the same images are misused in order to challenge, reject and delegitimize it…”.
To download a copy of Caroline Jaine’s Gaddafi essay (on defacement) click here
On 20 September 2011 a defaced portrait of Muammar Gaddafi arrived in Cambridge. A journalist had retrieved it from Libya at the artist’s request. A month later Gaddafi was dead. The Inquiry begins as an investigation into the “truth” about people and events as presented in the media and unravels into a caffeine-fueled frenzy of conspiracy theories. The Inquiry is particularly fixated by news coverage of the defacement and removal of political leaders in the wake of revolutionary moments and by chromakey green-screens used by television studios to project false backdrops. Another of many obsessions is the mechanism of the playing card as a means of spreading political messages.
These two installation pieces formed Caroline Jaine’s final show for her Masters in Fine Arts at Cambridge School of Art.