My Vows brings together hundreds of photographs of human body parts: mouths, ears, feet, noses, genitals, hands, breasts, and so on. Each hangs from a string, with some of the photos partly obscured by others. Together they form a dense circle whose diameter is roughly equivalent to the armspan of an adult person. The diverse body parts pictured—male and female, old and young, aroused and at rest—combine in a variety of unpredictable relationships, reflecting the elastic nature of identity.
Gallery label from 2023
This work brings together hundreds of photographs, each of which presents a small part of a human body: mouths, ears, feet, noses, genitals, hands, breasts, and so on. Each hangs from a string, joining and partly obscuring others. Together they make a dense circle whose diameter is barely greater than the height of a person or the span of his or her arms. The individual elements—male and female, old and young, seductive and repellent—form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Their physical, psychological, and sexual identities co-mingle in an inexhaustible variety of unpredictable relationships, which, together, overwhelm the stable patterns of our familiar arrangements.
Messager's Vows might be the passionate devotions of sexual love, or they might be the votive offerings of an old religion, hung in a chapel to ask for the healing of an ailing eye or limb. These divergent allusions are fused in this hybrid work—part photography and part sculpture.
My Vows (Mes Voeux). 1988-91
Publication excerpt from The Modern Museum of Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 331.