Adrian Piper

Above: One example from Adrian Piper's photo-series Food for the Spirit, 1971. Credit: Levy-Gorvy.

Fasting, Yoga and Naked Selfies

Through the Summer of 1971, twenty-two-year-old artist Adrian Piper became a recluse (SOED: person living in or preferring seclusion or isolation, esp. as a religious discipline; a hermit). Piper stayed home a lot. It was an intense period in which she meditated, did yoga, and read Immanuel Kant. It was a time for deep reflection, detox, and a positive effort to disengage from the exhausting Downtown New York bohemian arts scene. It was a time to withdraw, and to feed the mind-and-soul--but not so much the body, as she was fasting for much of that Summer. At different moments, Piper would shoot a naked, or semi-naked, self-portrait in her mirror--documents of her recluse era. Fourteen of the photos became the photo-art piece Food for the Spirit, which has been astutely described by art-writer Kaelen Wilson-Goldie: "The result of this intimately staged exercise in intense self-study is a series of fourteen underexposed black-and-white self-portraits that are at once ethereal, acetic, and unnervingly seductive. Piper appears to hover ghostlike between the abstract, intellectual, and immaterial, and the earthy, sensual, and unabashedly physical, a tiny camera raised casually, almost defiantly, to the nook below her naked chest." This series is now on view at Levy-Gorvy gallery in London. It is a wonderful haunting work which takes conceptual art practice (the photographer responds to an instruction-to-self) and utilizes it to create a series in which the artist is documenting her own presence-and-aura, or her presence-and-absence. It would be tenable to argue that the entire recluse activity was all in the service of increasing the intenseness of the self-portrait photos that were made along the way. The series is instructive and indicative of what is possible in photography with just your camera, an idea, and absolutely nothing else. The budget for shooting the series was really nothing. And the photo-prints are also an example of very inexpensive production--simple black and white prints, likely printed in a home-darkroom and selenium-toned by hand in a dip-dish.

(6 October 2018)