› Sat, 09 Jul 2016
I am so proud to have been selected a Foam Talent 2016 ! :)
› Tue, 31 May 2016
Flesh and identity transform paradoxically or maybe not.
The memory of photography expels the moment of its capture. Photographs are not of moments; they are mindful of thoughts and a concise palette of composition. Ilona Szwarc calms the maelstrom of her mind into a ruse of concealed identity. She is becoming an endeavor of self and gender. The feast she provides is an inquisition into body and how we redesign those fleshy concepts. Her images, conceptual and confusing in their heady assurance, require looking. Szwarc is no fool – she is incredibly smart – she gifts her photography this reward.
Points of interest are articulated – however – Szwarc has allowed I am Woman and I Feast On Memory a good amount of personal viewership. This authenticity is nearly abstract but not completely impersonal. A casual comparison to Cindy Sherman is just that, casual. The imagery of Szwarc’s work undoubtedly calls to certain photographic conversations, but she furthers much more contemporary contexts. In the photos we see a woman transformed by makeup and gesture, by the hands of another. In actuality the hands applying makeup are Szwarc herself. The main subject is a woman specifically cast to resemble her in both look and body.
Not nearly a mirror but still a sort of applied reflection. Looking at the photographs of these thoughtful constructions bares a thought, “I see myself seeing myself. I am not what I imagined myself to be.” It strikes me that Szwarc is challenging notions of both portraiture and self-portraiture. There is one of the most honest betrayals shrouded in so much layering. How do we relate to each other? How do we become ourselves? In turning toward herself there is a staged transformation of deconstructing details and rebuilding typology. There is a strange and uncanny misuse of womanhood in these images, a ploy so as to redefine and reclaim feminine culture.
Szwarc has created a beautifully treated platform for I am Woman and I Feast On Memory. A limited edition set of three artists’ books walks viewers through her narrative. These books embody the interaction between characters, mark making, and photography. Szwarc’s way of playing with imagery creates confusion between expectations and feminism. As the books progress there is witness to dissection of identity that yields a removal of searching until identity is totally obliterated. What does it mean to be a person if not totally contradictory in its simplicity? The body becomes new in its abstracted ability to not be what it was.
› Fri, 20 May 2016
› Fri, 20 May 2016
My books are now available at Printed Matter:
› Mon, 16 May 2016
In a book conceived as a triptych, Ilona Szwarc features 23 sequential portraits documenting the transformation of her doppelganger by herself. While she becomes both the subject and the maker of the series, she offers another variation around the theme of identity as a continuation of her previous works.
“This body of work began with the idea to organize a casting call for my doppelgangers, and that came from my interest in typologies. In the past, I have completed bodies of work that take up groups of women as subjects. I was an outsider looking in and therefore I was defining myself by who I am not. Here I wanted to invert that process and decided to look for American women, who look like me”, Szwarc explains. Among hundreds of submissions, she chose one woman whom she exposed to a physical transformation worthy of Hollywood. At first the model grows wrinkles and grey hair, then gains 40 pounds, and in the third transformation gradually looses her femaleness and identity to become an androgynous mythology character.
The process follows a strict narrative in which the doppelganger arrives at Szwarc’s studio in what seems to be her own clothing. Here, she is photographed as a police suspect – two profile portraits and a frontal one – before the makeup session starts. Slowly, under Szwarc’s intervention, the model changes and takes on kitsch and grotesque features.
“I project my own consciousness onto the character; I am reversing the process of my cultural assimilation onto her.” Some hints at Szwarc’s Polish background are spread throughout the book, such as the flowery scarf chosen to cover the aged doppleganger. “She is dressed like a babushka – an Eastern European elderly woman. By doing so, I let my doppelganger reclaim my cultural heritage”, Szwarc adds.
She also claims her identity by including herself on each series, which is in each case the occasion for a quirky scene. This creates for the viewer a visual illusion, confused whether he is looking at Szwarc or not. “I am questioning where self-portrait starts and ends”, she explains. In the second book, the aged model stands in a baroque room in progress. Above her hangs a mask – the same that is used to shape the androgynous double-faced character of the third book.
The mask enhances the uncanny duality of the whole project. “At some point her identity is completely obliterated and we can’t pick up any clues about this character. In this transformation I am producing a newly formed face of my own and of my kind. The final photograph, in which I am looking at the two-faced character, a Janus figure, is a metaphor for me looking at both my past and my future. This series is a meditation on the process of becoming, and it deals with the relationship between identity and appearance", she concludes.
› Mon, 16 May 2016
French Liberation wrote about my work:
› Wed, 11 May 2016
Recent assignment for The New York Times Magazine:
› Thu, 14 Apr 2016
Los Angeles-based photographer Ilona Szwarc’s recent three-book trilogy I am a Woman and I Feast on Memory; I am a Woman and I Play the Horror of My Flesh; and I am a Woman and I Cast No Shadow is a series of unsettling photographs using beauty tutorials as a metaphor for cultural assimilation. As a child, the Warsaw-native frequently visited the United States and wondered what it would be like to grow up as an American. When she moved to NYC as a young adult, she began using photography to help her understand this through two photographic series on the culture of American Girl dolls, and Rodeo Girls. While each project captured facets of American identity with a uniquely poetic, and consciously feminist lens, their representations only partially answered her youthful fascinations, they were made, as she acknowledges, by an outsider looking in. So, from 2014-2015, while working towards her MFA at Yale university, Szwarc turned her gaze inward and began making strange, theatrical photographs of her doppelgängers.
Szwarc’s new work ponders the process of absorbing an identity and assimilating into a new culture through physical transformation. The three books use simulated beauty “tutorials” and portraits to create a narrative of a fictitious character evolution. Stark lighting and step-by-step application of grotesque makeup depict her doppelgänger transitioning from a straightforward portrait – one that might easily appear as a contemporary fashion editorial – into distorted variations of herself. “Employing the use of lookalikes,” says Szwarc, “I am exploring aspects of mirroring, staging and performance, seeing myself in the face of the other. I am interested in notions of becoming – how an individual assimilates and makes oneself imperceptible in society while engaging a series of internal transformations aimed at finding a kernel of truth amidst the noise.”
Szwarc’s narrative follows an actress undergoing the process of becoming the persona she will play on stage, beginning with “before” shots – straightforward portraits with the actress wearing what we presume is her own clothing, and ultimately developing into full character. At times she inserts props that suggest Polish and Eastern European culture, cueing in her own personal history and the desire to culturally adapt. “The concept of the ideal self is at the core of all my work.” Says Szwarc. “This new work brings out the process to the forefront. It is not about who the character becomes, but what it means to shift around and change one’s appearance in relationship to one’s identity.”
Szwarc also includes fabricated “behind the scenes” images to exaggerate this construction with a supposed evidence that the tutorials took place. Instead of revealing anything about the women or their relationship, as many editorial photos of this sort might pretend to, they complicate the psychological mystery between them where little other information about their identities exists.
Ultimately for Szwarc, this process of aesthetic assimilation, of layering makeup and other cultural signifiers is hollow and creates an overall feeling of emptiness. “Through my experiments,” she says, “I have found that becoming is a process of elimination, a construction that moves progressively towards a void, an erasure of meaning, a subversive act of annihilation. The ultimate negation is death. The corpse becomes a character.”
Jon Feinstein, Humble Arts Foundation
› Tue, 29 Mar 2016
So great to see it in print! My latest assignment for The New York Times Magazine, article by Sarah Manguso.
› Mon, 29 Feb 2016
Tear sheets: Cover portrait of Joshua Oppenheimer for Politiken Kultur, Denmark.