In the multichannel, multimedia installation “Narrative Reflections on Looking”, Victoria Sin explores how desire is created and shaped through the subjective process of looking. Starting from the manifestation of desire in the process of identification with images, in their work Sin inevitably deals with the wider issue of gender and femininity as social constructs, as well as with their relationship.
Central to the installation is a series of four films. The simulation of the awakening of desire is realized here linguistically as well as visually – combining suggestive narration and the camera’s slow movements that direct the viewer’s desiring gaze. The choice of close-up shots and static frames underlines the voyeuristic dimension of looking (a characteristic shared with film), providing the viewer with an unobstructed view and encouraging them to observe the image meticulously. The image is thus the work’s central thematic preoccupation and its fundamental, constitutive element.
In “Preface/Looking Without Touching”, the viewer sees a motionless feminine figure lying in a sensual pose, spread across red satin. Simultaneously, the anonymous narrator tries to stimulate the viewer’s imagination, to merge the image with the object of the viewer’s desire and, finally, to establish the presented image as a universal fantasy. While the image is evidently referencing the ideal of femininity reminiscent of classic Hollywood, as well as the contemporary Western beauty trends, the feminine characteristics of the presented figure, Sin’s drag persona, are deliberately amplified. Hence, they embody their femininity only partially, at the same time parodying it.
In “Part One/She Was More Than the Sum of My Parts”, the narrator recounts a strange event – leafing through a fashion magazine, they encounter an image of a character who bears an extraordinary resemblance to them. Fascinated by their newfound resemblance, they are trying to find a meaningful way to connect with the image. All the while the viewer only sees Sin’s character, and as the camera approaches, the imperfections on their drag persona come to light – the loose eyelashes, the visible wigline… Thus, the image is revealed to be a construction, and a live body emerges from underneath the drag.
“Part two/The Return of Cthulhu”, is a paraphrase of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. At first, Sin’s drag persona appears menacingly in the shadows, barely recognizable, accompanied by the narrator’s description of the intense nature of the simultaneous feelings of pleasantness and discomfort that came over them as they were devoured by the gaze of an unknown otherworldly entity. Once they come into the light, the camera slowly starts to slide across their entire body, failing to reveal whose gaze ultimately devoured whom. The narrator’s desperate efforts to identify with the image culminate in “Part Three/Cthulhu Through the Looking Glass”, with a slightly erotic, violent and utmost absurd attempt to actually merge with the image. The grotesque act of sticking the torn magazine page to the narrator’s face points to the body as the main site of semiosis, the spot where restrictive meaning is materialized, as well as the potential catalyst in the production of disruptive meaning.
The significance of the body becomes most prominent in the wipes accompanying the installation. Referencing the trope of St. Veronica’s veil, Sin supplements every film with a wipe bearing traces of makeup, an imprint of the faces of each of their drag incarnations. In this way the body, otherwise absent from the installation and thereby challenged as a field of representation, affirms its materiality. By articulating the paradoxical position of the feminine subject – positioned both outside and inside representation – “Narrative Reflections on Looking” reflect a novel approach to criticism and open a space for subversion.
Victoria Sin (b. 1991, Toronto CA) is an artist using speculative fiction within performance, moving image, writing, and print to interrupt normative processes of desire, identification, and objectification. Drawing from close personal encounters of looking and wanting, their work presents heavily constructed fantasy narratives on the often unsettling experience of the physical within the social body.