In an epoch deﬁned by the phenomenon of what Jia Tolentino referred to in The New Yorker last December as ‘The Age of Instagram Face’ – the ubiquity of a technologically-engineered (through apps like FaceTune and ultimately, plastic surgery), uniform and cyborgian beauty among women – the idea of a woman wearing a mask as part of her professional artistic persona is not all that different, or even strange, by comparison. One is a mask in a literal form, and the other, just a mask by other means – ﬁllers and injections or gleaming ﬁlters, a sheer veil of digitally-rendered, poreless skin.
Narcissister’s shape-shifting performance art orbits around the artiﬁce of identity, particularly femininity. While she assumes a mask to conceal her face, her body is mostly naked apart from the addition of garters, suspenders and a merkin. A number of her performances involve the motion of pulling clothing items and objects from her oriﬁces, and take the form of a visceral re-interpretation of striptease or burlesque. Her work frequently encompasses the tropes and signiﬁers of a typically feminine form of glamour, one with its roots in old Hollywood: pearl necklaces, fur stoles, long hair, high heels and lingerie. In this case, it is a stirring DIY juxtaposition between socially-prescribed feminine pageantry and a sort of gross-out, carnal spectacle. For her, the erotic aspect of her work allows her and her audiences to “access boldness and personal freedoms in whatever forms that might take”.
One of her signature performances, Marilyn (2016), operates on this strangely abject plane. Wearing an icewhite, peroxide-blonde wig in reference to the Hollywood siren, Narcissister enacts a reverse strip tease by gradually dressing herself through garments pulled out of her vagina. The performance illustrates many of the deﬁning concerns of her practice, of femininity and beauty, glamour and artiﬁce. “One of the ﬁrst posters I acquired to decorate the walls of my bedroom as a young teenager was of Marilyn Monroe, even though I knew virtually nothing about her or her work. I just found her to be so glamorous,” she remembers. “She was beautiful in ways I certainly was not, but aspired to be. I recall being struck by what my mother told me at the time about the truth of her beauty – how fabricated it was – and also how troubled she had been. None of this was conveyed in the beautiful image of her in the poster! It’s no surprise she came up in my work both as someone to revere and to complicate.”