Hannah Doucet, “I Never Recognized Her Except in Fragments”, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and The New Gallery. Photograph by Ashley Bedet.

The act of representation is a process of mediation, of formalizing ideological frameworks, of exercising power dynamics, and of producing relationships between subjects and objects. An apparatus for self-imaging, representation both permits and precludes the naming and seeing of ourselves and others in the public realm, often resulting in dissonance, differentiation and exclusion. In Hannah Doucet’s recently opened exhibition at The New Gallery in Calgary, I Never Recognized Her Except in Fragments, representation itself becomes the subject of mediation, a means by which its processes might be called into question and its results decoded.

Working with photography, sculpture, film and installation, Doucet’s exhibition presents a series of uncanny tableaus of fractured and distorted bodies. High contrast studio portraits are printed on lengths of silky polyester knit fabric, re-photographed, filmed and re-formed through soft sculpture installation, their creases and crevices draped, layered, and re-figured. The subjects of these images are female: an unidentified brunette with her torso, limbs and face draped by fabric and hair, and the artist herself, her face and body repeated ad infinitum, unfolding in iterative segments throughout the gallery space and echoing off mirrored surfaces placed at strategic junctures. Captured in moments of stillness and re-presented in states of transformation, they move fluidly between subject and object, evading static representation through visual distortion, hybridity and physical materiality.

Hannah Doucet, “I Never Recognized Her Except in Fragments”. Courtesy of the artist and The New Gallery. Photograph by Ashley Bedet.

Presented through and reflected by the primary external armatures of perception, the photograph and the mirror, Doucet’s work speaks to physical and existential anxieties of self-imaging, wherein sight and visual processes are privileged and female presenting bodies are commonly situated as the objects of looking. The ideation of an “imaginary body,” as constructed through what Roland Barthes called “the repertoire of its images” provided by the photograph and the mirror, necessarily results in a fractured understanding of the self and the forms that constitute it. [1] The inability to wholly and truly see oneself is compounded by representational politics that impose socially and culturally constructed ideals on bodies, creating tension between what we imagine ourselves to look like and what we imagine we should look like. The process is interpellation: the internalization of representational politics and the act of misrecognising oneself based on dominant ideologies produced by media representation.

For Doucet, frustrations emerging from self-imaging and interpellation are confronted through the dual processes of self-representation and re-representation. Glossy and smoothly printed images of flesh are distorted through folding and draping and then re-photographed, their once perfect sheens disrupted by shadow. In a video entitled Inserting Stillness, the performative gestures behind her photographic works are revealed, as fabric images of figures are pulled and manipulated by grasping hands. Doucet’s playful meditations on the materiality of photography and representation are further explored in a new series of soft sculptures, through which Doucet reintroduces form into her flat printed textile bodies. Limbs, and torsos, and the unsmiling visages of the artist are severed and stuffed, their bulk unevenly distributed. Displayed in groups or alone, carefully arranged on mirrored plinths, mounted on the wall, or arranged in piles on the floor, they are the imagined pieces of flesh and muscle of the artist, her body perceived in fragments and reconstituted for display. These are imaginary bodies. They do not replicate the gaze of the viewer or the flat false bodies of the mirror or the camera, rather they offer a material and performative embodiment of form. As evidence of the many hours spent cutting, pinning, and sewing images of her own body, Doucet’s physical and temporal experiences of self-making offer a performance that works in opposition to social and cultural objectifications of women’s bodies. Strategically, Doucet constructs and presents herself in fragments, controlling and confusing the visual consumption of her body and disrupting the conventions of its objectification.

Hannah Doucet, “I Never Recognized Her Except in Fragments”. Courtesy of the artist and The New Gallery. Photograph by Ashley Bedet.

Doucet’s self-imaging is further deconstructed through a series of photographs in which her soft sculptures are re-presented two dimensionally. Captured in stark contrast and framed by flat fields of tan and coral pink, the images re-introduce the lexicon of studio portraiture and point to the complicated dichotomies entrenched therein. A cyclical flattening and inflating of form, Doucet’s re-photography of her sculptures generates a third barrier to their comprehension. An exercise in authorship, Doucet’s treatment of bodies through controlled presentation dictates our reading of them, wresting power from the viewer and disrupting long-standing gendered binaries of subject and object and of gaze relation politics. [2]

Where there is subtlety and delicacy in Doucet’s work, there is also an embrace of failure. Failure to represent, failure to be represented, and failure to self-represent punctuates the exhibition. The inability to wholly view and decipher her depicted figures creates incongruous readings of anatomy, fractured portraits that give us only glimpses into the depth and complexities of form and representation. The repetitive framing and re-framing of the same subjects mirrors the cyclical ways in which media represents form and the multiple re-imagining that occurs when attempting to grasp a unified self-image, failures that turn familiarity into strangeness and subjectivity into objectivity. In her soft sculptures, failure is executed both technically and visually. Starkly white seams bridge panels of fabric, drawing lines that demarcate the processes of their construction; colour and tone is vivid and uneven, subject to variant lighting during photography; and volume fluctuates, with appendages undulating in their width and dimensionality and a procession of hands that slowly deflate towards arid flatness.

Hannah Doucet,“I Never Recognized Her Except in Fragments”. Courtesy of the artist and The New Gallery. Photograph by Ashley Bedet.

It is impossible to enter into the work of Hannah Doucet without finding glimpses of oneself. Whether it is the shared corporal awareness of desire for or frustration with self-imaging or the inevitable discovery of your own body parts reflected in a mirror, Doucet’s work offers manifold opportunities for self-reflection and mediation on the processes and outcomes of representation in real time. In a simultaneously poetic and unsettling gesture, Doucet has left us possible paths for questioning and confronting representational politics in perhaps one of the most vulnerable ways imaginable, through fragments of herself.

Works Cited:

[1] Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, tr. Richard Howard (London: Macmillan, 1977), 31.
[2] See Amy Shields Dobson, Postfeminist Digital Cultures: Femininity, Social Media, and Self-Representation, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

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Monday Nov 5 2018