For its Frieze Art Fair 2013 presentation, Stephen Friedman Gallery chose to present Jennifer Rubell’s interactive sculpture Portrait of the Artist. Portrait of the Artist is an autobiographical work that Jennifer Rubell created when she was pregnant. In this video, Jennifer Rubell talks about the concept and the creation process of the work.
Portrait of the Artist is a white larger than life-sized fiberglass sculpture based on a digital scan of the surface of Jennifer Rubell’s naked body when she was eight months pregnant. It features an egg-shaped void where the baby would be. People are encouraged to pose inside the void in the fetal position. With this work, Jennifer Rubell continues her exploration into the relation between the viewer and the artwork.
Jennifer Rubell: Portrait of the Artist / Stephen Friedman Gallery, Frieze London 2013. Interview with Jennifer Rubell, October 16, 2013.
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At eight months pregnant, Rubell posed naked in a traditional odalisque position on a white plinth in the centre of her Brooklyn studio whilst technicians digitally scanned the surface of her entire body. The scan was digitised and her large belly was carved out of the three-dimensional image, leaving an egg- shaped void where the baby would be. The scale of Rubell’s body was then increased enough so that a large adult could comfortably rest inside the void in the foetal position and this image was then translated into a sculptural form. The result, ‘Portrait of the Artist’, is an eight-metre long fibreglass sculpture of Rubell’s naked pregnant form, inside which people are encouraged to pose.
‘Portrait of the Artist’ continues Rubell’s exploration into various pre-existing roles within the process of viewing art; between viewer and artwork, artwork and institution, viewer and viewer and artist and artwork. In this work, the viewer is offered the opportunity to transgress the traditional viewer/artwork boundary and become part of the work, not only by physically climbing into it, but also by projecting themselves into the iconography of the piece.
Positioning the viewer as the unborn child of the artist suggests a reversal of the power dynamics of viewing by infantilising and minimising the viewer in relation to the artist. It is a conflict Rubell has engaged in to enable her to accept the intimidating gaze of audience. With ‘Portrait of the Artist’, she is thinking of the viewer as an entity of the artist’s creation, completely within the artist’s control.
At the same time, the piece is a loving gesture toward an unknown audience: she says “I will nurture you, I will sacrifice all for you, I will do everything in my power on this Earth to give you whatever it is you are looking for. I will love you, whoever you are, whenever you come, whatever you think of me, forever.”
While the sculptural mother is dominating and physically impressive, she is also there to surround and protect you. It is an intensely feminine gesture on a monumental, heroic scale.
Jennifer Rubell (b. 11 June 1970) lives and works in New York City. Recent notable projects include Old- Fashioned, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2009); Creation, for Performa, the New York performance-art festival (2009); The de Pury Diptych at the Saatchi Gallery, London (2010); Icons, at the Brooklyn Museum (2010); and Engagement, her iconic waxwork of Prince William, at both Stephen Friedman Gallery and the Saatchi Gallery, London (2011). In all these projects, viewers have been encouraged to acknowledge and then violate the normal boundaries found between spectator and revered artwork. A hybrid of performance, installation art and sculpture, these unique occurrences have resolutely demanded audience participation.