Self Portrait from Surveillance Camera
Irene Fenara, "Self Portrait from Surveillance Camera", 2019, inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper, 39x52 cm, courtesy the artist and UNA Galleria
Jan 19, 2021 at 17:15
When I first saw this image (which apparently is part of a series and is still an ongoing project) I noticed how multi-layered this seemingly easy-to-make-self-portrait is in the way you approach it. It immediately made me wonder about the relationship between the private body and the public body in self-portrait art, and what its function can be within an artist's oeuvre. The self-portrait used to be a calling card; an example of your own artistic abilities. Here, now that you make use of existing facilities (am I correct in thinking that you do not create the circumstance of the image yourself, but ‘borrow’ it from pre-existing surveillance footage?), this self-portrait is instantly lifted to a much broader societal context. Namely one where looking, observing and producing images arises from a system of control. By using this existing system to capture yourself in time and space, you turn a mirror to society. But of course, you also make an artistic statement; as viewers, we are left questioning why this form of image appeals to you so much that you incorporate it in your own artistic journey. In addition to the format, with dimensions that vary in each self-portrait, do you have other means of putting yourself back in control as the maker? Or to put it differently: to what extent does the format (or other aspects) of the self-portraits you make determine the control you have as a portrait maker in this series?
Jan 20, 2020 at 12:08
“Self Portrait from Surveillance Camera" is an ongoing series of self-portraits made by placing myself in front of surveillance cameras already present in various places, tracked backward thanks to the data already present in the image. Because of the need to physically experience these places, which I have experienced only virtually until that moment, I moved my body from my studio to the place filmed, setting in motion a process of appropriation of the image, which is mine by right, since it identifies my figure. Reversing the gaze of control in counter-exhibition is central to this work as a re-appropriation of the self and our identity against the ever-controlled world.
I wondered for a long time if these images could be considered self-portraits or selfies. They are actually a bit of both because they have elements that belong to both the first and the second category. What differentiates a self-portrait from a selfie? Probably the selfie is an epoch-making change in photography, not only because the subject and the observer are the same things, like the self-portrait, but above all because it represents the moment in which we detach our eye from the lens, in a reversal of vision. Detaching the eye from the lens means putting ourselves back into the automatic capabilities of the device. The machines, like the phone with which selfies are taken, see for us, using a whole series of predefined settings that determine the image and our perception of it. Other very interesting characteristics of the selfie concerning the subject are the perspective from top to bottom, usually with the gaze turned towards the camera, an ideal position also of CCTV, and the distance from the lens that usually materializes in a close-up at arm's length.
In my images, this does not happen but the distance from the lens is still very important because it determines the size that the photographs will have when printed. The size of my figure in the image is, in fact, always the same and of the same measure, as if my body became in this photographic installation the measure of the world represented here, letting the proximity or distance from the camera determine the final printing size. My figure multiplied in time and space thus becomes an ordering principle that ideally arranges all things in the world in proportion. It’s not a question of closeness or estrangement but of an attempt to describe the rules and implications that arise in the complicated relationship with a control device. Another rule I've given myself is to always dress the same to always look like myself so the clothes I wear have taken on new importance. The clothes I wear are the ones I wore daily when I made my first self-portrait. Over time this long black coat has become almost a uniform, a uniform to wear when I work. I like the idea of a uniform at work, of wearing something that legitimizes you to do what you're doing, even if only you know it. Today, my uniform is almost a mask but also a way to always get closer to myself, to find myself.
Finally, I would say that the formal characteristics and intent of my images are closer to those of the long tradition of the self-portrait, while the technical characteristics are closer to those of the selfie as a digital performance and as an automated device.
Control for me becomes a way of giving myself rules that if followed allow for a decision-making process that is only partially controlled by the artist. So actually, by giving myself a precise rule, which is to keep the size of my body always the same in the print, I deliberately decrease personal control as an author to a more random process of determining the final size of my photographs. I am very interested in this method of working because I believe that the devices available to us, if used in alternative or programmed ways, can help dissuade our human attitude to reproduce something we have already seen. I conceptually like the idea of hacking something as an intellectual challenge to creatively circumvent or overcome those limitations that are imposed in all aspects of life. It's a special skill that I like to think I have when I'm very clear about what I'm doing. Putting the artist's decisions in the hands of a machine is, after all, the typical attitude of most of the devices we have today. Starting with smartphones, surveillance cameras and all those devices that work automatically.
Thank you so much