Cover her face. mine eyes dazzle; she died young.
What is liquid is not constrained. Liquid is water, it flows. Liquid identity is the same (a coherence) but it is the same as it is in motion: a consistency that shifts shape constantly. Anna den Drijver uses a solid materiality—paint—to dissolve identity. We cannot tell who we see. Their faces have been undone. But they are still there, under erase; underneath colored brush strokes that eat into the medium of photography, like early nitrate films disappearing into their own materiality (Peter Delpeut, Lyrisch nitraat). Images are sensitive, and so are identities. Both are unstable; they emerge provisionally and are judged in the gaze of another.
Identity is not a given but a performance, as the philosopher Judith Butler said. It is a role you play. This role comes with a position you are pushed into even before you were born: boy, or girl, self, or other. Repeat that role long enough, and you will have become your position. How to hide? How to evade the role reserved for you? In reality, you are infinite change, Den Drijver’s photographs tell us, hidden beneath the semblance of identity. Her work turns the inside out: a raw, vibrant materiality overflows the surface. That surface is but a mask, a persona as the Romans used it, to project or simulate a personality.
Cover her face, Duke Ferdinand said on seeing the dead body of his sister the Duchess in Act IV, Scene II, of John Websters The Duchess of Malfi (1623). Now that she is dead—and he wanted her dead—he suddenly feels a brotherly affection and tenderness towards her. Today, we may be as ambivalent as the Duke. In the last century, we declared the death of identity, seeing it as the mere effect of prefab positions. In the digital age, we need to cover our faces to protect whatever we still feel as selfsame from technologies of control. Liquid Identity is about taking refuge in a world of simulacra: the slow brushstrokes, tentative and heavy, are smudged over transient images of the self. It seems safe that way. Cover your face: retreat from the eye of the other, protect your humanity; your freedom.
The psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung once said that personality is ‘an act of courage flung into the face of life.’ It is an act of courage in so far as personality for Jung is an act of standing out, of showing what is uniquely yours to others, and what you share with others as living human beings. Today, appearing more and more is an act of conforming to filtered images. How would it be to disappear? To become unseen, unremarkable, unimagined? It is the province of art to explore what cannot be imagined. In Liquid Identity Anna den Drijver uses photography to investigate the invisible: to eclipse the singularity of the face in an art form that has been associated with portraiture from its inception. The result? The surfacing of a different singularity, an aura that dazzles the eyes, exceeds form, beyond the thousands of imprints we share of ourselves: something that can be experienced only once.