Cindy Sherman and Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls

Having read Anna’s report from our trip to museum of art Louisiana last week, I thought I’d just do a post of my own, following up on Anna’s observations on Cindy Sherman.

Because seeing the Sherman exhibtion reminded me of the Tori Amos-album Stange Little Girls (2001) which I bought recently and like very much. It occured to me at Louisiana that Tori Amos is obviously very inspired by Sherman in this album, which features 12 cover tracks, covering songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Lennon/McCartney.

Strange Little Girls - front cover

On the album, Amos presents an interesting new take on the concept of musical covering as she uses each track to present a different side of Woman as an expressive individual – and perhaps even different sides of herself as a woman artist. The songs are all centered around women and they are all originally written by male artists, and thus Amos uses the album as a way of exploring different male visions of women, and she does so playfully and freely, as if trying on different outfits in a fitting room. The homage to Cindy Sherman’s work  (whose artistic project of portraying women may be said to be similar) is quite evident, as Amos poses on the album booklet in a series of photos that recall Sherman’s staged photography:

Tori Amos - Strange Little Girls

From Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls

If the pictures stood by themselves, I would be tempted to dismiss them as sheer Sherman plagiatism, but appearing as they do as part of the album cover art, they merely serve to emphasize Strange Little Girls as Amos’s musical exploration of the artistic project that Sherman started, and I think that’s a very sympathetic idea.

Amos’s talent as a musician is indisputable, I think, and the tracks are all very interesting musically, ranging in genre from quite piano ballads to loud rock songs, much like Sherman’s photography which ranges from the fragmentary contemplative to the grotesque and shrill. My favourite tracks on the album are probably the beautiful, understated cover version of Tom Waits’s “Time”, which gains a whole new perspective with Amos’s delicate vocal replacing Waits’s hoarse one, and the almost deliriously rambling, disharmonic and multivoiced schizophrenic version of Neil Young’s otherwise very by-the-book ballad “Heart of Gold”. And her chillingly laid-back version of “I don’t like Mondays” haunted me for weeks after the Virginia Tech massacre and comes to my mind whenever I see Cho’s angry face on the news, the Elektra-like unquenchable thirst for revenge shining from his eyes.

A minor problem with Amos’s album is, however, that she does not achieve the diversity of expression that Sherman masters. While the genre of her cover tracks ranges, Amos’s women portraying gets a little monotonous, as the majority of the portraits present in some form a deranged and dangerous woman. She no doubt wishes to underline the tendency towards vagina-dentata-ish male fear of women, and while I think this is an important issue within our patriachal society, surely it does not reflect the attitude of the entire male population? Here, I think Sherman’s take on the male optics is more subtle and leaves more room for interpretation.

But the album’s spark and energy and Tori Amos’s fitting-room mentality towards a male-dominated society’s view on femininity, definitely makes Tori Amos’s music recommendable to anyone with an interest in Sherman’s project, and I think it is great, and much too rare, to see contemporary women musicians seriously exploring gender issues within their music. A much-needed break from Gwen Stefani’s scantily clad Hollaback Girls and Shakira’s allegedly truth-speaking hips. I haven’t yet heard Amos’s latest album American Doll Posse (which was released last month), but I understand that Amos continues her theme of women portraits, this time specifically criticising traditinal American sex roles; so it would seem that Sherman is indeed still very much alive and kicking. Good for her. And for all of us.

/marie

May 23, 2007. Art, Music, Reviews, Staged photos. 10 comments.

Cindy Sherman, Österlen, Birthday. A Flickr Update

I have been busy! Hence my long silence on this blog. But as recent additions to our flickr account show the last week has been full of good stuff.

Wednesday night Marie and I tempted the deluge and drove to the museum of modern art, Louisiana, North of Copenhagen to see works by the Queen of Staged Photos, Cindy Sherman. And what a great time we had! The exhibition was very large and included photos and videos from all of Sherman’s carrier. Most of them with a humorous edge, some of them disgusting and some of them combining those two strains. Besides from her recent clown portraits (sju jætter?) I think this exhibition showed what an extremely skilled artist Cindy Sherman is. Not only are her photographs technically amazing they also capture the spirit of an age and of the person (herself in disguise) she portrays. Marie and I stopped by every piece and talked and talked about them. Nothing was of little importance or dull. I think she is fantastic.

Cindy Sherman

As a curator to be I think the exhibition was very serene and nice and with a good selection of works. Some of the wall colours were odd but when it comes to hanging I think they did a good job. Look at this wall for example where Sherman’s Old Master photos have been arranged in a traditional hanging a’la Parisian Salon. Just the right thing to do if you ask me.

Old Masters, Sherman
I am completely taken by these. Sort of an acting out of a make-a-match memory game for art historians.

On Thursday I went with my family to Sweden to do some more painting in the vicarage my parents bought. We spent a whole four days there working hard. Here are some pictures.

Dining room

This is the dining room with me and my sister painting with grey (and me trying to make a straight line). Ever since entering a grey room in some friends’ house I have wished for some room of my own in grey. I think it is enchanting and with old furniture it just makes perfect sense.

After the dining room we painted the neighbouring living room. Yellow. A very difficult colour but beautiful together with grey and with the big white porcelain stove in the corner it looks great. Here again my sister and I painting.

Living room

Of course we weren’t alone – far from it. My brother, dad, uncle and brother-in-law made a great effort too as did my aunt and mom. This is my brother with his protective glasses. The staining annoyed him a good deal and when this wonderful pair turned up he just has to use them.

Glasses

When not painting we went on trips in the wonderful area, Österlen which is the Easternmost part of Scania (Skåne to the locals). They live on apples in this part of the country so at this time of year Österlen is one big blooming apple garden.

Apple blossom

Actually scenes from the Cherry Valley (apples…cherries…) in the adaptation of Astrid Lindgren’s The Brothers Lionheart were shot here and when driving through the scenery it is breathtaking.

The apples are used for cider and apple juice…and cakes.

Apple cake
Pie!

Besides from apple trees there are fields, woods and steep hills. And a waterfall just five minutes from where we are.

Waterfall

We left Sweden on Sunday and on Monday it was my birthday. And look at all the great stuff I got from my wonderful family:

Gifts

I have to admit I am ridiculously fond of presents and this year was perfect. I got what I wished for and I got what I had wished for but had forgotten again. Besides I had some more cake and a wonderful dinner with same wonderful family which just made the day perfect.

What a week!

/anna

May 22, 2007. Art, Photos, Reviews, Staged photos, The course of the year, Travels. 6 comments.

Trying out the Rommelpot. Staged Photos from the UK

I receive the newsletter of The National Gallery, London each month and the May issue had some information on their annual project for young school children called Take One. Every year the NG chooses a picture from their collection and teachers and pupils across the UK are then asked to be inspired by the picture in their lessons. Cross-curicular work as they call it. The products of this will be viewed by the Gallery officials and a selection will be exhibited. It could be pictures the children painted, poems they wrote, videos, photos, sculpture, etc.

How about these marvellous cheetahs by the children of Saint Nicholas Junior School, Bath:
Cheetahs

Inspired by Bacchus and Ariadne (1521-23) by Titian:
Bacchus & Ariadne

Wonderful. But what caught my eye in the first place was a staged photo. And as you know Marie and I are always trying to be on the ball about staged photos. This year the National Gallery handed out a painting by the Dutch painter Jan Molenaer (1610-1668):

Two Boys and a Girl making Music
Two Boys and a Girl making Music, 1629

And here is the most hilarious staged photo – isn’t it precious?

top_keyimage.jpg
Children from the Bishop Tufnell Infant School.

If you go here you can read more on this year’s picture, the exhibition and watch a nice little film about the children participating.

Last year the picture was Pierre Mignard’s Marquise de Seignelay and Two of her Sons, 1691.

Marquise de Seignelay and Two of her Sons

And here’s another staged photo – an updated version showing a father with his two daughters. I think it is very touching.
staged-far.jpg

Seems like a very good project. Once again the Brits beat the rest of us at reaching children with art.

/anna

May 4, 2007. Art, Staged photos. 2 comments.

Coulrophobia – Fear of Clowns

Anna and I took the following staged photo during a stroll through an otherwise beautiful and Spring-like Copenhagen:

Clown

*SCREAM!*

As I’m hoping the above photo will show, a clown-sighting is enough to induce in me a Norwegian-fin-de-siecle-ish kind of existential anxiety, and I will never understand how it might be possible to react differently. Who was it that first decided that a grotesque-ified version of a human (insane make-up, over-sized mouth, nose, and hair) displaying a generally destructive behaviour (falling on his own ass, or making fellow-clowns fall on theirs, extensive pie-abuse) would be funny? I don’t even want to know.

Incidentally, when Anna and I came across this disturbing billboard (which displays a particularly creepy clown, since it mixes elements of the perfectly normal – black suit, white shirt, tie – with the grotesque and clown-like, thus indicating that there is a clown hidden in all of us! *shudder*), I had just been sharing with Anna a clown-related urban legend. I am currently working on a feature for the literature radio programme that I work for, about urban legends as modern folklore, and I plan to cite this particular story in the feature, because I think it is a fine example of the brilliantly simple, yet effectful narrative structure that characterises most urban legends. And then, as a bonus, it serves to provoke in its recipient a certain caution when it comes to clowns, which is definitely a good thing. So I thought I would post the story here on the blog too:

A couple with kids were going out for a night on town, and they were trying out a new babysitter, a young girl. At some point during the evening, they called the babysitter to check if everything was going ok. Sure, said the babysitter, the children were in bed and sound asleep. The babysitter was, however, wondering, if it would be ok for her to watch cable TV in the parents’ bedroom? The living room TV didn’t have cable – the parents didn’t want their children to watch all sorts of garbage – and there was a particular programme that the babysitter wanted to see.

Of course she could watch TV in their bedroom, the parents said. The girl thanked them, but she did have one more request: Would it be ok if she pulled a blanket or a sheet or something over the clown statue that they had in their bedroom? It was kind of creeping her out, she felt like it was staring at her.

“Take the children and go to the neighbours immediately”, said the parents, “We’ll call the police. We don’t have a clown statue.”

/marie

April 1, 2007. Art, Literature, Photos, Staged photos. 4 comments.

Marie Ekberg

Marie and I were in Rome a year and a half ago. You have already seen some of our staged photos from that trip. But you haven’t seen my personal favourite: Marie posing as Anita Ekberg in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
Now as Marie was not allowed neither by our tight schedule (we were off to the airport) nor by the Italian authorities to step into the pool of the Trevi Fountain she did a combination of Anita Ekberg with the kitten and the Trevi scene. No kitten was available at that exact moment since there were quite a lot of Japanese at the site that day and they had scared away all the kittens. But you can imagine it I’m sure. And the black dress and the blond hair. Hey…maybe I should have done it…well. Here it is:

Marie with imaginary kitten

And just to remind you, la Ekberg:

Anita Ekberg with real kitten

/anna

February 25, 2007. Films, Photos, Staged photos. 2 comments.

Staged Photo #2 – Tosca, finalmente mia!

Here is another staged photo already! Again we are trying to capture the essence of the opera Tosca.

Staged photo - Scarpia and Tosca 

The roles are reversed here; Marie has left the menacing air that surrounded her in the previous staged photo in favour of a more delicate, feminine expression: She is in this photo portraying a frightened Tosca, complete with wide eyes and a mouth opened to utter a desperate “Aiuto!”, helplessly caught in the arms of brutal Scarpia, portrayed by the shrewd-looking gentleman in the picture, who is peering ominously over the rims of his glasses.  “Mia!”, he’s saying.

Photographer Anna has taken care to depict the murky atmosphere of the scene by making sure that the lighting in the picture was appropriately dim.

November 19, 2006. Opera, Photos, Staged photos, Travels. 1 comment.

Staged Photo #1

The Confidential Attachées bring you: the staged photo!
Tadaaaa!

Anna and Marie posing as Tosca

It should be obvious that we are posing as the opera Tosca. We are the opera.

Marie does a disturbingly close portrayal (handbag and all) of the bad, bad Barone Scarpia. Anna is of course Tosca, a part she was born to play since she is blonde. The gentleman to the left does a remarkably daring Mario Cavaradossi – in red! And look : they are enjoying the stars remembering better times, Mario exclaiming “E lucevan le stelle” and indeed they were.

The backdrop is Ponte Sant’Angelo and Castel Sant’Angelo by night.

This is the first in a series of staged photos. We are looking forward to present you with stunning examples from our collection and completely new ones made exclusively for The Confidential Attachées.

November 19, 2006. Opera, Photos, Staged photos, Travels. 2 comments.

Marie posing as the Nile

A year ago Marie and I went to Rome. One evening we were in the Piazza Navona eating Tartufi – those intimidating chocolate ice cream cakes (or what ever they are called) and high on too much chocolate Marie chose to pose as the river Nile mirroring Berninis version in the fountain in the middle of the square. As the source of that river was unknown at the time its head is hidden.
I just found the picture and thought it was too good to keep to myself:
Marie as the Nile
/anna

September 18, 2006. Photos, Staged photos, Travels. 1 comment.

Michelangelo

In the beginning of April I went to London to study drawings by Michelangelo Buonarroti. I have this group where we study Italian drawings and this semester and last we have been studying this great draughtsman. We were very privileged as our professor had made a wonderful and dense program including a visit to The British Museum before opening hours, talks with leading scolars of Michelangelo and Italian art as such. To top it all we ended our stay in Windsor where we entered the marvelous print room of the Royal Collection. I did ask if I could take a group picture in there but they wouldn’t let me so you’ll just have to imagine two large spaces with wooden ornamented ceilings and glass cases lining the walls. Inside the cases were tons of boxes with hand written signs reading “Leonardo da Vinci”, “Raphael”, “Michelangelo”, “Guercino”, “Germany 15th Century” etc. etc. And the names I refer to were not written on one or two boxes, no, no there were at least fifteen of each. Such wealth.
We were there for Michelangelo and we saw some of his most famous drawings and among them the ones he drew for his love Tommaso de’ Cavalieri. One of them “The Archers” is a wonderful red chalk drawing showing a group of young people aiming at a herm. The funny thing about the drawing is that none of the archers have a bow and yet you complete the image in your mind.
After leaving the print room walking out into the sun I convinced the group (not hard at all) to do a staged photo. They were to pose as “The Archers”. Our professor generously played the role of herm and the rest positioned themselves as archers and putto. I have a love for staged photos and this is already a treasured one.
First the original (sorry I could only find a high definition in black and white, you must imagine the red chalk):
Archers
(if you are dying to see the red chalk look here )

And now our version:
Danish Archers

Pie!
/anna

April 18, 2006. Photos, Staged photos, Travels. 4 comments.