Suzanne Clements: All I want is three heads 14 – 16 July 2023 MAMA 10 Greatorex Street, London E1 5NF
‘All I want is three heads‘, an exhibition of new paintings by Suzanne Clements, where the artist explores human endurance and resilience, both emotional and physical, when faced with life’s inevitable precarity. The show is an externalization of Clements’ inner psyche guided by her experimentation with a specially commissioned mirror, characterized by oscillating concave and convex surfaces.
Depending on the angle at which the mirror is approached, it produces distorted reflections of its subjects – elongated, compressed, stretched, entirely warped. Clements’ use of the object as an introspective tool emerges from a long legacy of the mirror’s symbolic significance. While historically in portraiture it had been associated with motifs of truth, illusion, or vanity, Clements sees the mirror rather as a tool for understanding the heaviness and chaos of life as they imprint themselves on the human form.
The body and its limbs are here a key vehicle for expression; the works in the show reflect the weight of endurance that marks prostrated bodies, poised for action or collapsed in exhaustion. Stretching and expanding, distorted images test the limits of the body, reflecting its immanent fragility. But they are also a manifestation of perseverance, a declaration of continued existence. A painterly assertion of the self, Clements’s work is autobiographically loaded, exploring the embodied experience of womanhood as something innately performative and suited for further metaphorical investigation of the human condition more broadly understood.
‘The bodies in my works provide a link to my previous life in fashion, representing the moment of creative transition when I removed the clothing of Clements Ribeiro – my fashion brand – and confronted the new possibilities of the body, now as a subject to different investigations and projections’.
A competitive swimmer and successful designer, Clements had witnessed the body pushed to its limits in almost every direction. The artist’s fascination with the notion of bodily bearing is thus testament not only to the human experience of pain but perhaps more importantly still, to the body’s resistance and strength in spite of trauma. With the physical fashioning of the female body in particular being a trope that pervaded much of art history, Clements’ approach offers a brutally honest and poetic stance on the reality of survival, where the resilience of the human spirit is revealed in poignant ways.
Within the exhibited works, the self-portrait emerges as a revelatory medium, both veiling and unveiling, revealing and concealing. Philosopher Judith Butler’s confession from ‘Giving an Account of Oneself ‘- ‘I cannot explain exactly why I have emerged in this way, and my efforts at narrative reconstruction are always undergoing revision’ – resonates Clements’ understanding of self-portraiture as seeking to unspool thoughts and emotions by playing with multiple narratives that grant their receiver the freedom of interpretation.
The exercise of autobiography is necessarily paradoxical, for each time one is brought closer to a more complete self-understanding, the self fragments once more, distancing the subject from their introspective narrative. ‘The possibility of the “I”, of speaking and knowing the “I”,’ explains Butler, ‘resides in a perspective that dislocates the first-person perspective whose very condition it supplies’. Clements’ ‘Three Heads’ series is a painterly embodiment of this dislocated perspective, where the internal world of the subject is multidimensional and complex, like the poet Rimbaud’s ‘je est un autre’ – or ‘I is somebody else’ – haunted by a sense of exposure and misunderstanding.
Tackling issues of trauma through the practice of painting is for Clements a way of regaining control and finding playful ways to articulate and confront difficult experiences. ‘My many preoccupations with the battles of life are grounded in my own personal strategies for perseverance and flourishing – and painting them is somehow part of the armor’. Sparks of fantasy and narcissistic intimations underlie the emotional tensions in Clements’ works, uncovering an aesthetic potential in situations of extreme intensity, the visual language of which lies somewhere between Francis Bacon, Nan Goldin and David Cronenberg – dark, disturbing, grotesque, elegant, beautiful, voyeuristic.
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