Narcissister, a masked performance artist who prefers her real name remain a secret, is you. Or at least that’s the thought she’d arguably like you to have upon arriving at her first solo exhibition, “Narcissister Is You,” a multimedia experience currently stationed at the Lower East Side’s Envoy Enterprises. One can can find an array of eye-catching “self-portraits” on the gallery’s first floor, wherein she is photographed in different costumes, her mask sometimes polished and other times broken up into pieces, accompanied by disfigured prosthetic breasts and tattered wigs. While some may find it easy to uncover a message in these works, whose theme, as described in a statement from NYU performance studies professor Barbara Browning, is rooted in “the possibilities of identification through the act of self-reflection and self-love,” most anyone would be surprised by the project’s origin. “‘Narcissister Is You’ is a new concept I actually started when I was on residency in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2009,” the artist says between showings. “I just got really interested in the idea of seeing other women, and some men, as my character, and realized obviously with the mask, my project could be very broad like that. So I actually just walked around Zagreb with my mask and approached different women and asked them if they’d be willing to put the mask on while I photographed them.”
Narcissister, who is originally from La Jolla, California, found the women she worked with to be extremely receptive, and pushed the project forward. Other opportunities arose back in New York, such as evening-length works at performing-arts centers like Abrons and the Kitchen. “I was trying to figure out how to extend my pieces, which are generally five minutes or less, to a longer format,” she notes. “One idea I had for that was incorporating other sisters, or other women, wearing the mask.” Fast-forward past this—and a number of other eye-grabbing, well-received performances and appearances (not to mention the accumulation of famous admirers like Marilyn Manson)—and you get Narcissister’s newest work, which also features several sculptures in which viewers may see themselves through a Narcissister mask. “I just wanted to boil the essence of my project down to an object,” she explains. “I wanted to branch out into new territory with this show, and I hadn’t done sculpture as Narcissister, so having the opportunity to show my project in a gallery made me think, Maybe it’s time to do that.”
Another dimension comes by way of video submissions, which are set up on a trio of projection screens in the downtown space’s dark basement. Some shot by Narcissister herself, the footage varies—one screen displays a woman in jogging gear waiting for the train, while another shows a couple kissing. One thing they all have in common? Each participant dons a Narcissister mask. “It’s very multi-generational,” she says of the contributors. “The oldest woman is eighty-six or -seven, and then there’s some children and animals wearing the masks, so it becomes very broad, which is exciting.” This type of far-reaching interest in the 41-year-old artist’s work seems to inform its objective—finding a common thread by maintaining an egoistic angle.
“It’s complex because I can also see how it is somehow narcissistic, or that there’s a little bit of an edge in my offering people to take my mask and document themselves,” says Narcissister. “I think that there’s different ways of looking at it—there’s a generous aspect, there’s an aspect that’s not ‘narcissistic’ in the negative sense. It’s totally self-effacing and a humble gesture on my part, one could say. And then there’s the other side, the shadow reality, but I think that’s true of so much of life and ourselves. These light and these dark impulses exist together.”
“Narcissister Is You” runs through February 10 at Envoy Enterprises, 87 Rivington Street. Images courtesy of the artist and Envoy Enterprises, New York.