31.1.15

Self at Turner Contemporary

Although I personally can't bring myself to use it, 'selfie' is now an accepted and commonly used word. Self at Turner Contemporary is an acknowledgement of the self-portrait within the context of today's society combined with a historical look its development.
I went along to the private view for the exhibition and followed this with another visit to the show on a quieter day in order to really take in the work. 

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Antony van Dyck's final self-portrait which is beginning a 3-year tour of Britain here in Margate. Among the 100+ works in the show, you'll find Hockney, Hirst, Warhol, Freud, Gormley, Constable, Bourgeois and of course, Margate's treasure - Tracey Emin. 

The pieces I find particularly interesting and engaging in the exhibition are the alternative interpretations of the 'portrait.' For me, the featured artists presenting their self-portraits in the form of a video, sculpture, installation, etc, are most intriguing and these alternative perspectives keep the exhibition fresh and exciting. You're taken away from traditional conventions and, in some instances, offered challenging abstraction.


Photo by Stephen White 

My current favourite piece is Jeremy Millar's 'Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man' - a lifelike cast of Millar's body, laying on the floor. See more details on his website here. To unsuspecting eyes, this work can be a little shocking and disturbing (as dead bodies can be...) However, I found myself fascinated by the creation. The visual detail is commendable yet it is the conceptual detail that I feel is most impressive. Referencing other works in order to create your own is standard practise. It is something we are taught as artists and this is done openly with Millar's piece. He has taken inspiration from a photograph taken in the 1800's and a short story written in the early 1900's. As a result of these combined references, the Drowned Man is a unique presentation of oneself and stands out in the exhibition. 

Another piece I enjoyed in the show was Tracey Emin's 1995 video 'Why I Never Became a Dancer' which features footage of Margate with Emin's narration overlaid. Emin describes events in her life as a teenager. It's difficult to listen to at times. We know the role that honesty plays within her work and she describes some unfortunate events from her past in the video. The events of these years are recalled, however, in what appears to be a physical and emotional release, the end of the video consists of Emin spinning gleefully to a well-known disco song. Contrasting content and an artistic 'two fingers' to boys who humiliated her make for a powerful piece.

Other works of note for me include Gavin Turk's 'Portrait of Something I'll Never Really See' and Douglas Gordon's 'Self-portrait as Kurt Cobain, as Andy Warhol, as Myra Hindley, as Marilyn Monroe'.




Self is an exhibition that can challenge, captivate and surprise. There's a vast and diverse range of artworks to be seen and even if you aren't enthused by the thought of self-portraiture, there are unconventional and unpredictable responses by artists that prove to be engaging. Yet again Turner Contemporary is offering free admission to an impressive collection of art from world-renowned artists in Margate.    


You can see the show at Turner Contemporary
in Margate until May 10. 
Details are on their website here.


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