Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] by Talan Memmott works from a selection of artist’s self-portraits and biographies, cuts them up, and reassembles them into new wholes, pairing a portrait and a biography assembled from factual parts never intended to interact, and presents an (almost) wholly fictitious painter.
Now the art of remix is nothing new. In the 50’s and 60’s there was the cut-up technique popularized by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin (of I Am That I Am fame), an idea that has itself been remixed time and again to produce the oft-humorous online generators of today. Remix culture rejects art and literature as static objects, and encourages the re-working of these objects into something new and different.
The biographies Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] supplies are detailed things, not limited to a short array of facts, but describing the specific works and life events of the ”artist” in question. To glance at the biography removed from the obviously assembled portraits, it would take me more than a moment to realize their falsity. Of course, upon closer inspection, some of the painters being aged over two hundred years old might tip one off (as might the name “Vincent Degas”, but I never claimed to know anything about art), or the eventual repetitions as you click from portrait to portrait, but on the whole the grammar is so neatly cut as to provide seamless storytelling, everything seems to flow and follow. Rolling over the mouth of each portrait reveals a quote, unattributed like the rest of the components, serving to further flesh out the creation of an artist who never was.
The surreality of Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)] comes down to how much the reader is paying attention. It takes the mangled portrait to pull the reader out of the student-like skim mode, reading biographies as a chore, and to the present, making them pay attention and notice that something is a little weird when the biography starts talking about how, “In 1862, Degas moved to London and met Matisse and Bob Ross. Together, they initiated the formation of the Constructivist movement.”
Memmott’s use of self-portraits in particular creates an interesting frame; each work (prior to its dissection) represents how the artist saw themselves. Now they are re-arranged as part of a whole to represent an entirely new self, an entirely new person. Memmott takes re-mix one step further, from re-mixing art to remixing history, reality. He takes facts and produces fiction, not by changing them in any particular way, but by situating them around one another he makes a face and gives it a story whose parts we will recognize but whose whole we decry. This generator puts a name to a face and a story to the name, but only for as long as it takes for the reader to click ahead for the next fiction of facts.