It’s possible that Susan Silas’ relentless (some would say obsessive) self-portraiture at CB1 Gallery only seems powerful to me because I, too, am a middle-aged woman. If you are old enough to have seen your face start to sag in the mirror, you may find something quite touching in Silas’ unflinching photographs and life casts. If not, it’s an honest glimpse into the future.
The Brooklyn artist made a plaster cast of her face in 1992 and then again in 2012, following that up with annual castings through 2015. The casts appear here in three media: in luminous beeswax, in stolid white bronze and in photographs. Needless to say the contrast over the 20-year gap between the first two is striking while the differences among the rest are more subtle, charting a slower process of decay.
Because of their associations with death masks, the casts have an eerie finality to them, although I hope Silas will continue to make them annually. They are certainly death masks for particular moments in time.
The photographs (and a video) simply record Silas looking at herself in a mirror. She is nude, with nothing but white wall reflected behind her. Most of the portraits were taken in the last five years, although there is one that serves as a touchstone from 1979.
The stripped-down aesthetic of 1970s feminist art governs the exhibition, and Silas’ acts of self-regard are more evocative for it. In addition to the depredations of age, the works dredge up thoughts on the efforts we invest in our own appearance, the distance between our self-image and how others see us, and the relationship between our interior selves and our physical bodies. In an age of social media, in which we are constantly scrutinized by others, Silas asks us to take a long hard look at ourselves.
CB1 Gallery, 1923 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles. Through July 17. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. (213) 806-7889, www.cb1gallery.com
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