Detail of Children with Their Eyes Scratched Out (Les Enfants aux yeux rayés), Album-collection No. 3. 1971-72. Ink on five gelatin-silver prints, each 14 x 19 1/2 inches, and one album. Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Messager played with her identity early in her career, creating two personalities to mirror the division of her activities in her small apartment between living and making art. The realms of "Annette Messager Collector" and "Annette Messager Artist" are seen in a drawing by Messager of her apartment. [77K JPEG]. The "collections" she produced were not unlike ordinary collections of snapshots and clippings or family albums. They included every sort of diaristic indulgence: fantasies of sexual adventure; her own drawings or photographs of particular subjects; found materials such as cut-out illustrations from women's magazines; and copies of technical instructions. Handbook of Everyday Magic consists of inkblots made from Messager's signatures--one created each day over the course of a month--with her interpretation of each written underneath it.
Detail of Handbook of Everyday Magic (Petite Pratique magique quotidienne). 1973. Thirty-two mixed-media on paper elements, each 10 3/8 x 9 1/4 inches. Collection the artist, courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.
In Happiness Illustrated Messager made brightly colored pencil copies of travel poster imagery and arranged them on a wall; the work alludes to our acceptance of popular ideals as our own.
Details of Happiness Illustrated (Le Bonheur illustré). 1975-76. Colored pencil on paper drawings, each 11 3/4 x 16 1/4". Galerie Chantal Crousel; Galerie Laage-Salomon, Paris; and collections Chantal Crousel, Gabrielle Salomon, Nancy and Elise de la Selle, and Tracy Williams.
Other collections chronicle rites of passage in "her" life; a number assemble instructions and how-to illustrations; some show her attempt to perfect herself; others communicate her frustration over the limitations of the roles for women dictated by society. Messager went so far as to title herself differently in relationship to the various kinds of work she created; besides artist and collector, she also began to call herself practical woman, peddler, and trickster. In a mixture of the personal and the cultural, Messager articulated both the impulse to emulate social models and the conflicts inherent in the process of socialization.
A sub-group within the album-collections consists of collections of images in which women are cast as the objects of violence. Although she does not profess feminism, in these works Messager takes a decidedly feminist look at the public image of women. In one of these works, Voluntary Tortures, Messager assembled a group of clipped illustrations of women submitting to beauty treatments, ranging from mud baths and facial peels to more painful and radical plastic surgeries. The strange contraptions, awkward positions, and re-formed body parts make clear the sacrifice of individual identity to a socially defined standard of beauty.
Voluntary Tortures (Les Tortures volontaires). 1972. Gelatin-silver prints, each 11 3/4 x 7 7/8 inches. Fonds Régional d'Art Contemporain, Lyon, France.
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