The presentation of the body seems to benothing short of constitutive for the socialhuman. It’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t play to the gallery whenever they’re in contact with others. Each interaction, even in infancy, is intended to arouse a reaction in the other person. According to Jacques Lacan, the first conscious encounter with oneself – be it in a reflection as in the myth of Narcissus, or in the mimicking mirror of one’s parents – is the moment at which the ego develops, the personality is formed, and human autonomy unfolds as we realize our own existence.
From then on, the questions “How do others see me?”, “How do I see myself?” and “How do I want others to see me?” play a key role in social interaction and thus also in the way we present ourselves. Ritual body paintings, yet also tattoos and make-up provide a specific indication of how the body can be translated into an image. Seen thus, clothes replace the decoration and design of the body’s exterior. And apart from their purely practical function of providing a second cover to keep us warm, clothes become an element of the picture, making the body a canvas. Patterns, colours and shapes merge with the wearer to form a whole perceived as a more or less characteristic appearance, as a personality between individuality and uniformity. Nevertheless, fashion – especially in the artistically experimental forms of haute couture – becomes independent in its own world of design. The search for identity through a stylish exterior and an interior meriting protection is abandoned in favour of producing an image which in a sense becomes autonomous from the individual. Although the body remains the wearer of symbols and designs, they no longer reflect complex inner worlds but become appropriations and interpretations of existing ideas.
An example of this is the groundbreaking, elegant Mondrian dress by Yves Saint Laurent, which he first presented in his 1965 autumn collection. Instead of emphasizing the female form, it treats it as a framework for an abstract composition borrowed from art history. The originally two-dimensional painting is translated into an animated three-dimensionality and the display of an abstract image takes precedence over an individual seeking expression and self- presentation.
This is where Maria Visser’s work comes in. Deliberately abandoning the established context of the designer-driven world of fashion, she places herself in the traditional, historical context of art. Moreover, she floods the exhibition gallery with symbols and elements of the catwalk, presenting outfits and settings, decorations and models as fleeting wanderers between very different levels of meaning. Sculptures and spatial elements, dance and music, stage and exhibition space, music videos and fashion magazines, visitors and performers: in Maria Visser’s projects, the divisions become blurred and simultaneously open up a polyphonic field of meaning. Individual battens form words which as strips of fabric then become T-shirts, historical narratives about witch-hunts mingle with pejorative terms for women in several languages, while young men and women model clothes which don’t appear to be made for their bodies: stiff, solid fabrics in predominantly grey, white and silver, imitation leather, fur and tricot. Instead of clinging to their bodies, they ‘mark’ them, frame them, and form compact surfaces and geometric volumes in a manner evocative of OskarSchlemmer’s stage.
In Visser’s presentations, appropriation and creation merge into an elegant, stylish amalgam confidently penetrating the realm of art and shifting its boundaries far into the social sphere. By addressing the surface of fashion design as such, she emancipates it in favour of an individual world of symbols packed with social and everyday cultural references. Appropriation in her work means reinterpretation, form-finding equates to passing comment, and presentation in both the exhibition gallery and the pseudo-fashion magazine is a narrative creating dialogue between the symbols and codes with consummate ease. Visser’s ‘fashion’ no longer reflects individuals with their inner desire for self-presentation, but society with its constraints and contradictions.