photographs, Jen Davis and confessional poetry

April 23, 2013

Jen Davis, Fantasy No. 1. 2004

Jen Davis, Fantasy No. 1. 2004


she reminds me of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, only visual.

all my comparisons are by necessity transmedial; my knowledge of visual art is often limited to the standard nonsense that every pop-culture-immersed, non-design-school semi-hipster modern kid knows,* and as I have little in the way of like stock to compare visual artists to, what I see is often compared to poetry and plays and words (my own primary-coloured playground).

Thus: Jen Davis reminds me of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath with the same kind of confessional stance, the same openness to being looked at and the same hiding behind the face one presents to be looked at.


4 A.M. 2003, Jen Davis

Jen Davis, 4 A.M. 2003


confessional art. the eyes of the narrator are always aware of an audience. there is always an audience. the face of the narrator is always closed. we see fear, insecurities, troubles held open to the light for our perusal, suggested or visible, and no answers. only questions like wounds, laid out like laundry for everyone to see and nobody to touch. this kind of openness is its own castle, a fortress of exposure. Davis’ face is bare but shut and there are thoughts going on behind it that we have no access to; Sexton and Plath spill their guts and their frailties but there is safety in that revealing, words they’re not saying for all the words they are.

there is control in being openly, visibly vulnerable, airing one’s uncertainties and tensions and uncomfortable side-by-side livings with oneself. it is a kind of shield, a form of safety, a representation one wears which looks almost the same as the real vulnerability, but isn’t. it offers honesty to be interacted with, but is instead a crystallised form of that honesty, a rendered image of it, keeping the reality safe. an exact mask of your own real face to be worn by you. it achieves a kind of distance. I have not quite come, yet, to any firm conclusions why.


I enjoy this kind of art, both the visual and the written; the nakedness of it intrigues me, makes me aware of my own discomforts and tensions, my own fears and desires. it is not a place one can be entirely comfortable, which sounds a lot like the world, unless we lie to ourselves enough. Is it, perhaps, an I have shared this, now you too must share? or does it instead forbid? however it is, she’s looking at us- and what kind of gaze is it? what are we invited to see and how far are we invited to see in before the doors come up? or is this invitation to look itself a kind of door? is vulnerabilty on display a barrier or an invitation?

do enjoy this kind of art, not least the questions it provokes. here is the article in which I found her, and here is her site. here’s more Sexton and here’s a little more Plath. have fun. I’m going to go work on an essay.





*(I’d say that my visual art knowledge-bank is somewhat comparable to a classical music repertoire consisting of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, that bit from William Tell’s overture and Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Or perhaps a little more than that. Perhaps, analogously, I know some Bizet (Carmen, of course) and something from Figaro and the Dies Irae from Mozart’s last Requiem, and even some Debussy. I’d like to think, at least, that I linger in art galleries a little longer than your average untrained punter, puzzled and fascinated and wondering, willing to be affected, moved, spoken to. Open to seeing.
Or perhaps I underestimate the average punter. Quite likely so.)

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