Words by Laura Wells
An excursion to NYC and a will to expose my 4 month old daughter to some culture (its never too early), lead me to one of the most intriguing artworks that my path has so far crossed…
It was a flash-in-the-pan scroll through a few of my go-to art mags where I stumbled across an image of Becoming Chelsea, an installation work by Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Chelsea E. Manning – the central artwork of A Becoming Resemblance, the artists’ solo exhibition at the Fridman Gallery. Without reading the accompanying words for context, a tactical habit, the picture itself was enough to get myself (and my art appreciating newborn) dressed then pram-handling the 28 blocks downtown to see it in real life. Only on arriving at the gallery was I confronted with the mind-blowing backstory and substance of the artwork…
In 2015, Heather began to produce 3D printed portraits derived from the DNA extracted from cheek swabs and hair clippings of Chelsea. Chelsea was mailing them out of prison. She was incarcerated for violation of the espionage act care of ‘aiding the enemy’ during time served in the US army; sharing her top-secret lunch pack with team Assange, which, according to the US government, was a catalyst for the up rise of the Arab Spring.
Subject to a strict policy on visitation, Chelsea’s image was suppressed from 2013 until her release from prison in May this year. The artistic collaboration with Heather gave Chelsea back a form of visibility, a human face she had been denied. A face that just prior to her arrest had embarked on a gender transition. The result, an artwork of 30 digital renderings of surprisingly diverse faces suspended at eerily at eye level, titled Becoming Chelsea.
It’s timing is impeccable… The artwork forms a diverse crowd, evoking the form of a mass movement, synonymous with your daily CNN report. It comments on identity and the importance of visibility and is an attribution and evidence to the commonality of all, a commonality that is plainly present even at a cellular level. Circling the work, the aesthetic enters you into the Uncanny Valley, almost too human like but (being floating heads) not quite human like enough, eliciting feelings of unsettledness and revulsion. The aesthetic, process and muse form a recipe that creates the perfect draw-card for anyone with even the slightest sense of inquisitiveness.
A Becoming Resemblance is a must see. If you're even close to the NYC area, the exhibition runs until September 5 – an exhibition I would happily walk 128 blocks (and more) to see.