Sunday, 19 December 2010

Bite 18: Arthur Tress - Bride and Groom, 1971

Bride and Groom, New York, New York, 1971
Gender is aligned with performance and displayed as a malleable element of identity in this complex Arthur Tress work. From the sequence Directors of Darkness in his series Theatre of the Mind, Bride and Groom presents the actor Stephan Brecht - one part husband, the other wife - in a derelict theatre, self-possessive before the camera, photographed straightforward, with space given to the context of the stage - as Diane Arbus may have presented him. 

Ceremony and ritual is referenced in his hand gestures. His 'male side' boldly takes an oath which his 'female side' graciously accepts. This is a parody of heterosexual marriage as we know it, yet his dignified expression, with upturned nose, indicates his seriousness and self-absorption - even as he appears to be marrying himself. Tress does not mean this to be read as ironic, or at least primarily so; but rather he is highlighting the intersubjectivity of identity, stressing an understanding of self - sexuality and gender - as fluid and contestable.

By presenting the binary of gender in a confronting and direct way, amalgamated within one subject, Tress succeeds in refuting the gender binary, questioning its foundations and the assumptions stemming from it.