A Review of ISelf Collection: Self Portrait as the Billy Goat

billygoat.jpgISelf Collection: Self Portrait as the Billy Goat at the Whitechapel Gallery explores the construction of selfhood through a selection of 25 artworks, including rarely seen pieces by Cindy Sherman, Tracy Emin and Louise Bourgeois. Curated by Emily Butler, it is the first chapter of a four-part series, which is geared towards revealing privately owned pieces to the public.

The collection is a mixture of sculpture, painting and photography that grapples with the ‘self’ in abstract, physical and imaginary ways. The exhibition is said to have ‘existentialism at its core’, as it explores the human condition in the themes of love, death, birth, sexuality, illness and pain among others. Some pieces are more obvious in their self-expression, like the images of Andre Breton and his Surrealist colleagues larking around in a ‘photobooth’. Others are more abstract: Yoyoi Kusama’s loopings of white paint (Infinity Nets YSOR) suggest the inner workings of one’s mind and Self Portrait as Chart with Looping Volume is comprised of a foiled insulating material that resembles the shape of a torso.

Looping volume.jpg

The exhibition deconstructs the tension between how we feel and how we project ourselves to the outside world. This is relevant to our culture, being one that is obsessed with ‘selfies’: an idealised image that we ourselves construct and perpetuate online. Linder’s You search but you don’t see me, best explores this issue of illusion and performance. As the title suggests, the portrait portrays the themes of disguise and self-protection. The woman’s poised gaze and elegant appearance contradicts her internal feelings, which is symbolized by a plastic bag that appears to be suffocating her. In a similar vein, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled series draws attention to the performativity and multifaceted quality of identity, as she poses as four different actors at curtain call.

Linder.jpg                                 Linder, You search but you don’t see me

Louise Bourgeois, the artist who famously stated that her ‘body was a sculpture’ explores the psychology of the feminine experience and motherhood. Three Horizons is composed of three female figures made out of pink felt that are each at different stages of life—they lie on what appears to be a mortuary table. An intriguing addition to the table is a steel moneybox, which perhaps alludes to the commodification and sexualisation of women. On the same wall, Tracey Emin’s two gouaches I’m Here and First Clasped, explore her sense of self in the nude form.

The central piece is the eponymous Billy Goat by Pawel Athamer. The artist imagines himself as half human and half beast, like a quasi-Bottom from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is an introspective sculpture, comprised of plastic bones, glazed ceramic, goat fur and one human shoe. Taken from Auguste Rodin’s famous The Thinker (1903) and the Polish cartoon ‘Koziotick Matakeh’, the melancholic goat is hunched over, with his head in his hands while he contemplates the weight of the world.

The free exhibition represents the complexity of the human experience through a variety of different mediums. As some of the pieces hold deep existential questions, the collection enables the viewer to reflect upon their own idea of the ‘self’. Established in 2009, the first chapter of the collection is on until 20th August 2017.

Future ISelf Collection displays include:

ISelf Collection: The End of Love (30 August – 26 November 2017); ISelf Collection: Structures of Chance (5 December 2017 – 1 April 2018) and ISelf Collection: Bumped Bodies (10 April – 12 August 2018).












One comment

  1. This is a beautifully written review. I went through this room at the gallery, though I didn’t linger as I spent too much time in the other exhibitions, so it’s interesting to get a more in depth look at it!


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