Cosima Hawemann’s exhibition MirrorrorriM opens with a painting of a woman looking at herself in a large, round mirror:
“… a woman looks at herself in a mirror which she holds in her right hand. It is not a small hand mirror, but rather a wall mirror. She reaches out with her left hand to tilt it towards the light. The pose looks like an exaggerated posture from a silent movie. The subject is transferred to canvas using the Street Art stencil technique and then overpainted with acrylic glazes. The theme of the painting alludes to love in the times of self-promotion: love yourself, optimise yourself, show yourself, be completely narcissistic. The viewer could also read the work as a commentary on the selfie culture. In keeping with the times and in view of art history, one could consider Albrecht Dürer as the inventor of the selfie. With her work Spiegelung, Cosima Hawemann brings the modern self-portrait which is taken with and shared on mobile phones back into the realm of painting. Hawemann’s paintings contain many years of dialogue with art history: We subtly sense Edvard Munch, but we always recognize her individual approach to painting, inviting the viewer into a unique visual world which distinguishes between Image and Reality.”
In real life (IRL), however, the line between what is real and what is imagined has become less discernible. Building on her previous investigative series Doppelganger – the idea of a second, stage-managed public self – Hawemann goes further to question the ubiquitous vanity of our times and the construction of our Self: Am I who I show myself to be; or am I as others see me?
Vanity is as old as humanity itself. As a subset of pride, vanity falls under the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins and is closely tied to envy. It is a common theme throughout literature, including that most famous of fairy tales, Snow White: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? The evil Queen’s vanity, which escalates to an all-consuming envy, leads to her death.
The advent of digital cameras and social media has allowed us to send limitless reflections of ourselves out to an infinite and mostly unknown audience. As the medium has evolved, we have become more adept at constructing our ‘best face forward’. At any time of day, people can be seen IRL unselfconsciously primping and preening in front of their cameras, alone or in company. Like Narcissus, we have become deeply infatuated with our own reflection. We take great pleasure in receiving the attentions of our admirers, measuring our self-worth by the number of Followers and Likes we garner. We allow ourselves to feel elevated when others profess to envy our achievements.
Our unquenchable thirst for digital acknowledgement further blurs the line between Reality and Image: we begin to see things that don’t exist. Reflections become mirages. The constant barrage of staged and filtered images interferes with our bearings; other people’s Image becomes our Reality, so we must constantly up the ante to stay visible.
The majority of Hawemann’s paintings show her subjects gazing at their reflections or striking ‘Instagram-ready’, pseudo-celebrity or lifestyle poses. Her overlaying of glazes onto digital prints acts to distort the carefully constructed original images which she sources from popular media. By bringing the selfie back into the realm of painting, Hawemann exposes our vainglorious follies.
Through these paintings, Hawemann has tossed a stone into Narcissus’s pond, its rippled surface providing an opportunity for us to escape.