“Florian Werner: Cindy Sherman, when she was asked about her politics, once told The New York Times: ‘I’ve never actively thought of my work as feminist or as a political statement, certainly everything in it was drawn from my observations as a woman in this culture. And a part of that is a love-hate thing-being infatuated with make-up and glamour and detesting it at the same time. It comes from trying to look like a proper young lady or look as sexy or as beautiful as you can make yourself, and also feeling like a prisoner of that structure.’ This love-hate relationship with beauty, and images of beauty of course, is that something that you can relate to as well?
Peaches: Definitely, and also the power of femininity and how you use it, and dealing with images of beauty and not relating to them… and not wanting to relate to them. […] I think both Cindy and I offer many identities and many ideas of just figuring out how to deal with that.”
Acclaimed for her portraits, through which archetypes and stereotypes are documented and performed, Cindy Sherman is an artist unparalleled in her visual exploration of the social mechanisms that inform common perceptions of womanhood. Working alone in her studio, camera equipment and a mirror as her sole aides, her work is, if perhaps falsely, commonly filed under ‘self portraiture’, assuming that each image is of herself.Cindy Sherman “Untitled”
Such an error, if it is one, can easily be forgiven. With her impeccably honed aptitude for masking and disguise, Sherman’s images acts as windows into innumerable fictive selves; yet so raw is each result that the boundary between the performance of a character and Sherman herself is hazy at best. Often hyper-caricaturised, the images call due attention to the extent to which perception is filtered through a conditioned gaze. Despite their lack of titles, each is unfailing in its ability to trigger the recognition of the specific role being performed. The measure to which a viewer’s understanding is obscured by instilled values, naively claimed as their own, is thus revealed, for in their viewing the image, they see not Sherman, not even a person, but a clichéd facet.
Held at Auguststraße’s me Collectors Room on February 10th, ‘Peaches does Sherman’, a talk by the Berlin-based musician and all-round creative doyenne, offered insight into the work of this veritably chameleonic artist, the phenomena that both explore, and Peaches’ new album, Rub.
Fearless in her questioning of conventional perception and understanding, Peaches’ work offers a bracing rawness, existing beyond the parameters within which we attempt to define that which we perceive. What the mainstream sees as an active transgression is simply her self-expression and, perhaps more precisely, a reclamation of self. Take, for example, the video for Rub’s title track; shot in the desert by a crew of 40 women, the result is proof that Peaches’ work is an expression of femininity in its most elemental, visceral and robust. To insinuate that, in “Rub”, Peaches oversteps the boundaries of a patriarchal definition of acceptability is somewhat problematic, for at no point has any component of the production had any footing within them. Accusations of vulgarity, direct or indirect, such as that implied by Youtube’s censoring of the video, therefore say far more about the narrow minds of those at the helm of the firewall than of Peaches herself. In “Rub”, Peaches was explicit in her demands that no kissing or overtly sexual contact was to be depicted. All the same, the video has been overtly sexualised by keyboard warriors and supposed guardians of morality alike, exposing the chasm between where Peaches stands and the reviled position that the aforementioned seem so eager for her to fill.
After the talk, we briefly caught up with Peaches to further explore what it means to create entirely one’s own terms, the importance of a nuanced employment of language and taking ownership of that for which she is reproached.Peaches does Sherman, Talk with Peaches in the exhibition “Cindy Sherman – Works from the Olbricht Collection” © me Collectors Room Berlin, Photo Jirka Jansch
Œ Magazine: You touched upon this in your talk, discussing the consideration of your work as transgressive. It could be said that an integral component of your creative presence seems to gravitate around the subversion of presupposed norms, be they psychological, gendered, sexual, or even those in fashion. To what extent is this conscious or intended?
Peaches: I definitely questioned pop and mainstream ideals, wondering why they were and why I didn’t relate to them; through those questionings, I came up with a creative way of dealing with them. In that way, [my work is] not head-on transgression, but just a questioning of “why is this the way it is?” I’m true to my words when I say that I long for the day that it isn’t transgressive. Even if things are moving forward, they’re also moving forward according to trend. Right now, you hear every mainstream person talking about…
Œ: Gender fluidity…
P: Yeah, gender fluidity! And also, we need to figure out the proper terms. Everybody needs to be aware of language, its pitfalls and its importance.Peaches does Sherman, Talk with Peaches in the exhibition “Cindy Sherman – Works from the Olbricht Collection” © me Collectors Room Berlin, Photo Jirka Jansch
Œ: That leads me nicely onto a question I’d wanted to ask about your use of language; your lyrics are striking in their dissection of social tropes, relationships and taboos. For example, in your track “Casanova” [Peaches laughs], the Casanova is referred to exclusively in the passive voice. Another example is the title of your album “Fatherfucker”, which disarms the masochistic venom and violence of its counterpart, ‘motherfucker’. How do you perceive your relationship with language and what influence does it have on your performativity?
P: It’s an incredible gift! We need to use and reinterpret it constantly. We can’t just rely on clichés; we have to make new clichés! That’s what I set out to do, to create ones that are more to my liking, or more in line with how I see the world.
Œ: With an innovative use of language often comes satire. Something I’d noticed, again in Casanova, is the lyrical undermining of machismo and of the sexual agency connoted by the term. How far would you agree that this can be read as a satirical interpretation of normalised sexual roles?
P: It’s definitely satirical when you think of what a Casanova represents in its machismo, but also in its supposedly gentlemanly qualities. [In the song] we’re basically just having our way with a Casanova.Peaches does Sherman, Talk with Peaches in the exhibition “Cindy Sherman – Works from the Olbricht Collection” © me Collectors Room Berlin, Photo Jirka Jansch
Œ: Some of your work is conventionally assumed to be vulgar…
P: I don’t think that I’m vulgar. I do not perceive myself as vulgar at all.
Œ: I would agree, but what is your reaction to people who consider your work as vulgar?
P: I think they need to take a look at what vulgarity is. There’s definitely an element of something extreme, perhaps to their eyes; [if] vulgarity is something that is grotesque along the lines of [Antonin] Artaud, or something helps you to understand where we’re at by presenting an augmented form of it, then bring on the vulgarity! It’s about the way in which the term ‘vulgar’ is used, you can also use it in a positive way: “Wow, that’s vulgar!” If it’s meant in a positive way, then I’m for it. If they’re shutting me out with it, then I’m shutting them out.
Œ: So would you say that the appropriation of this supposed vulgarity is a form of empowerment?
P: That depends on what you mean by “appropriation of vulgarity”…
Œ: Appropriating the notion of what is considered vulgar. In taking those things considered vulgar and showcasing them in a manner that exposes…
P: Perhaps another side of them, rather than vulgarity… but it’s a taking back of, it’s trying to understand and show another side of it, so that it doesn’t have to be so feared.
Œ: Your work is frequently associated with a distortion of the male gaze. To what extent would you agree, or would you say that you try to exist beyond it?
P: (instantaneously) Beyond it.
Peaches does Sherman, Talk with Peaches in the exhibition “Cindy Sherman – Works from the Olbricht Collection” © me Collectors Room Berlin, Photo Jirka Jansch