The philosopher Remo Guideri contends that the first narrative regarding the first portrait photograph is the image of Jesus Christ that appeared on the towel that was given to him by Ananias to wipe his face. There are varying degrees of knowing oneself and how one appears, the fundamental existential problem. As stories go, nothing truly exists until it is written about or photographed.
In 1999 Carroll’s friend and sometime collaborator Robert Blanchon died from AIDS in the intensive care unit of Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Blanchon didn’t have health insurance; there were three men shackled to their beds, accompanied by armed sheriffs, in the same ward. After his death, Carroll returned to California, where she was teaching at UC Irvine. Among her classes was a seminar on narrative. The students were assigned a five-minute exercise in which they had to imitate themselves. They could do anything they wanted and in any medium. The projects were quite good up until the point where a student produced a razor blade for his imitation of an angst-filled twenty-six-year-old art student and slit his wrists as his presentation. In the emergency room following the slitting (which was done in the correct, nonperpendicular manner), the student mentioned that he had met Chris Burden two weeks before.
Around this time, Carroll had moved her New York studio from a 3,000-square-foot space in Tribeca to a 350-square-foot suite of offices at 249 West 34th Street across from Penn Station. Given that Carroll’s work is conceptual and resides in language, and that the majority of it is executed outside of her studio, the office became the ideal space for her practice and the studio a problematic site. When an artist invites someone to her studio, in most cases the guest wants to see something other than the artist. Carroll decided to set up a portrait studio cum copy stand in the back room of her office. She started to photograph everyone who came to visit, beginning with sculptor Fred Sandback. The portraits in You and We are double portraits, showing you as you are seen and as you see yourself. Self-recognition was a subject that Carroll began working on as early as 1986, when a director’s photo she submitted for publication with her movie W.O.O.L. was printed in reverse. Inherent to most materials is a right side and a wrong side, but with these photos, who knows what is correct except the individual him- or herself? You and We also arose in conjunction with Carroll’s Corrections, which shows how people seek the information published about themselves to be accurate, a drive that raises fundamental questions about the self and how its doubling reinforces our sense of being.
In an interview between Marcel Duchamp and Pierre Cabanne, the question of mortality is most poignantly considered:
Cabanne: Do you think about death?
Duchamp: As little as possible. Physiologically you’re obliged to think about it from time to time, at my age, when you have a headache or break your leg. Then death appears. Despite yourself, when you’re an atheist, you’re impressed by the fact that you’re going to completely disappear. I don’t want another life, or metempsychosis. It’s very troublesome. It would be much better to believe in all those things, you’d die joyfully.
A selection from You and We appeared in Esopus magazine number 5 (fall 2005).
You and We, 1999 and ongoing
27″ x 27 ” inkjet prints