New York

Dorit Cypis

International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)

Dorit Cypis has gained a well-deserved reputation for her provocative composite photographs, as well as for her performances and multimedia installations. Cypis’ photographs often consist of an erotic image of a female body juxtaposed with a differently biased image of a body, such as from a medical textbook. Each of the two images presupposes the subject’s relation to the body in a different way; within one composite photograph, Cypis transgresses the borders separating both image types. Her goal is to reclaim the body from existing representational codes.

This installation, called The Naked Nude, 1989, linked various phases in the artist’s development: from X-Rayed, 1988, in which Cypis used photographs she had taken of a female model, to X-Rayed (altered), 1989, in which she appeared as the model. In the current installation she also incorporated snapshots her father had taken in Paris of classical nudes in painting and sculpture. On three walls of the darkened room were holograms of apples, symbols of forbidden desire. On the fourth wall were two large classical frames. Along a mantel going around the room were the artist’s father’s amateur snapshots. A continuous soundtrack of various types of music and spoken phrases added another element.

The only “bodies” present were three metal projector stands topped by slide projectors. One projector showed images mostly of cadavers as seen in medical textbooks. These photographs had been cropped so that lines which once led from parts of the body to titles now simply protruded from the cadavers, creating a kind of pictorial voodoo. Another projector showed some of Cypis’ self-portraits, with the artist looking into a mirror on a dresser or lying in bed reading books and magazines, making herself the passive object of the viewer’s erotic projections. Elsewhere, she was seen with her mouth covered or in the midst of a rapid movement. A third projector slowly turned and gyrated, projecting images of a Balinese cremation ceremony onto the other images, the walls, and the viewers. The effect of the installation was a sense both of sparseness and of confused clutter.

Cypis emphasizes the metaphorical concomitants of the body in religion, medicine, and art, using photographs of herself and leaving the viewer to ponder the possible connections between them. Much as the French feminist Luce lrigaray has done with writing, Cypis seeks through this movement between different ways of imaging the body to invoke the body as essentially existing outside any one form of exchange. Her program is an ambitious one; however, the exhibition here lacked a certain clarity of focus. In particular, the unlit photographs taken by the artist’s father seemed little more than a biographical curiosity, and the holograms of apples seemed cliché. Because Cypis’ work is continually evolving, the point at which it is shown can play a contributing role in determining the work’s accessibility. In this case, the timing seems to have been less than fortuitous.

Richard C. Ledes