Posted by: esqui22k | December 11, 2020

Mirrors & Subjectivity in the work of Lady Clementina Hawarden and Tokyo Rumando

According to Jacques Lacan, as when we first confront our reflection in the mirror, we fragment ourselves as “the Self” and “the Other.” The Self being the subject and the Other being an object. Mirrors in the work of Lady Clementina Hawarden, can be interpreted as expressing this drama through the female body in the Victorian era.

By Lady Clementina Hawarden

If a clear image in a mirror depicts an understanding of one’s subjectivity, then could a dark reflection symbolize the opposite? In both the images above, the reflections of Hawarden’s daughters are darkened, suggesting an identity at odds with itself. On the left, the daughter is attempting to confront her silhouette-like reflection, while on the right, the daughter is turned away sweeping the floor with a broom. Their subjectivity shrouded in darkness, the objects in the image like their dresses become the focus, highlighted by natural light.

With fashion as the focus of the images, Hawarden’s daughters by association become dolls—objects. “Hawarden’s daughters, as part objects of the mother / photographer, mirror not only each other but also their mother” (Mavor 44). This is to also say that the daughters represent products of a historic and cultural performance of femininity. Moreover, Hawarden was had a “close proximity to her own mother, who was also fond of fancy dress” and her photographic work intends to dramatize that relationship (Mavor 46). Objectification and othering of the female form in these images comes to encompass a whole generational phenomenon; therefore, the opulence of their dress (or costume) masks inner conflict about subjectivity, reflected symbolically in the mirror.

While looking for contemporary parallels of Lady Clementina’s images, I stumbled upon the work of Tokyo Rumando, a self-taught Japanese artist. She started out as a model, and much of her work’s inspiration stems from those early experiences. I’m most interested in her photographic series titled orphee, likely a reference to Orpheus. In Greek mythology, Orpheus took a journey to the underworld to resurrect his wife, Eurydice. In Rumando’s series, a journey to the underworld is akin to an introduction with one’s reflection. The circular reflection in her images exposes desires, fear, and memories—all fragments that build the Self.  

orphee no. z2 (2014) By Toyko Rumando

In orphee no. z2, the “real” Rumando gazes into a shattered mirror at a dramatized femme fatale version of herself. The mirror reveals some sinister truth about her (maybe she killed someone?). However, the femme fatale is just a character, a costume that Rumando can put on and take off, representing one of many tropes women are boxed into. Could it be that Rumando enjoys playing a part? Or is she scrutinizing a part imposed onto her that threatens her subjectivity in the way Lady Clementina Hawarden dresses her daughters up and poses them like dolls?

The name of the photo series first exhibition was titled “I’m Only Happy When I’m Naked.” According to Rumando, the nude photographs in the series represent the most honest version of herself, while the costumed images like that of the femme fatale in orphee no. z2 represent her masks or projections.

“Changing yourself in order to fit with other people and the circumstances has become quite the norm today, and it’s not just about clothes and make-up. We keep on putting on more and more masks, but the true liberation stands in stripping them off and getting close to the slightest piece of skin underneath. Even though many of these masks are a burden and I’d like to take them off, I cannot get rid of them that easily as long as I live. I feel like they are necessary to survive in this society. Perhaps some of these masks are even comfortable, but it might just be that we are generally afraid to take them off.”

Tokyo Rumnado in an interview for Zen Foto Gallery by Federica Sala

It feels as though the world forces you to wear a mask, and often those masks threaten our subjectivity. A true confrontation with the Self in the mirror is denied to Hawarden’s daughters, and instead all we can see it the masks that they wear. In contrast, Rumando directly introduces her masks (Marilyn Monroe, the femme fatale, the geisha) to the mirror, allowing her to interrogate them, shatter them, and undress to find the “real” reflection of the Self underneath.

Citations:

Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage As Formative Of The Function Of The I As Revealed In Psychoanalytic Experience.” Jacques Lacan Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, W.W Norton and Company, New York, 2006. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Lacan%20Mirror%20Stage.pdf

Mavor, Carol. “Reduplicative Desires.” Becoming: The Photographs Of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden, Duke University Press, DURHAM; LONDON, 1999, pp. 35–80. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv11cw67p.8.

Sala, Frederica. Interview|Tokyo Rumando: The Endless Loop of the Gaze: ZEN FOTO GALLERY – A Photography Gallery and Publisher Based in Tokyo Specialized in Asian Photography. 4 Feb. 2016, zen-foto.jp/en/blog/article-interview/interview-with-tokyo-rumando.


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