• Doing Gender – Martina Minette Dreier

    Date posted: August 1, 2007 Author: jolanta
    We are what is coming next.
    Perhaps it is the corner of the mouth that I find attractive, or a tattoo. Perhaps it's the way that one wiggles their nose when they're talking, or their unaffected air when they sail through a crowd. My attention is aroused by a detail. I start watching someone, picturing that person to myself until I want to know if I'm seeing them the way that they desire to appear—if what I see is what they want to show. Painting someone is a wonderful opportunity to find this out, to really come close to somebody, to get to know a person and truly picture them.
    Martina Minette Dreier, Harry - nyartsmagazine.com

    Doing Gender – Martina Minette Dreier

    Martina Minette Dreier, Harry - nyartsmagazine.com
    Martina Minette Dreier, Harry.

    We are what is coming next.

    Perhaps it is the corner of the mouth that I find attractive, or a tattoo. Perhaps it's the way that one wiggles their nose when they're talking, or their unaffected air when they sail through a crowd. My attention is aroused by a detail. I start watching someone, picturing that person to myself until I want to know if I'm seeing them the way that they desire to appear—if what I see is what they want to show. Painting someone is a wonderful opportunity to find this out, to really come close to somebody, to get to know a person and truly picture them.

    For me, the most exciting moment is when my model has reached a state of meditative absorption, when there is no more intention to present or hide something, but instead to be just who they are. At that moment, I feel like I'm receiving a gift or borrowing from a special source. I acquire a kind of knowledge that is not possible to attain through the use of language or intellect.

    The models who I work with are not professionals. For most of them, it is the first time, and probably the last time, that they will be painted by an artist. If a subject does not know how something new is going to work, they tend to refer to familiar situations. That is why many of my models start to look into the artist's eyes like they are the lens of a camera: anxious, attentive, perhaps with a smile. In any case, they look into my eyes like they want to be seen, like they are looking at themselves in the mirror.

    It is not possible to maintain a pose for hours. No matter how many times someone has practiced a certain expression in the mirror, or for the camera, at some point the tension is going to slacken and control is going to get lost. The models get used to the situation in the studio, the scent of oil colors and turpentine and the scratching noise of the brush on canvas. Perhaps the subject has been sitting there for an hour already, and they know that the next hour will be the same. And, very slowly, the focus of their attention shifts towards their center.

    Who am I? What do I want? How do I want to be? What is my need, what do I dream of, what do I want to reach in life? And, is this truly me or am I influenced by the expectations of other people and by the way they look at me?

    The question of identity is not easily answered—the more you differ from the standard, the harder it gets. And the standard dictates that there are just two sexes, each connected with its own determined role. Male or female, we tend to think that our judgment is pretty reliable when it comes to classifying people. But how can we be so sure? What criteria are we actually using to make these determinations? Obviously, there is a system of signs like “beard,” “breast,” “makeup” or “Adam's apple” that we feel we are able to decode fluently.

    But, more and more, people are casting aside the roles that have been allotted to them, illuminating the possibilities that lie outside of a cultural system limited to bipolarity. In the universe that exists between the states of man and woman, there are endless ways to be human. This is the universe where I feel truly at home.

    "We are what is coming next," says Zora the Hermaphrodite in Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex. Perhaps we are on our way to a society in which sex and gender are not dependant on one another, and there we will have the freedom to be exactly who we want to be.

    My series "doing gender" offers this freedom and creates a situation in which the reliable distinction between male and female gets lost.

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