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‘Sex-mirrors’ is part of the work on sex and urges developed by Carmen Arrabal in 2006.

Following the video installation 'I is a thousand', in which she herself embodies different archetypes of male fantasies exploited by the sex industry, the artist produced this series of photomontages from the videos that make up the installation.

On her previous videos, Carmen Arrabal had already approached the subject of stereotypes concerning women’s representation as well as the relationship of women with their bodies. In “Sex-mirrors” she proposes a monstrous and deformed reading of the feminine body through a seductive and structured plastic universe.

In her representation of fantasies, the fragmented and multiplied body exposes a baroque metaphor of contemporary sexual identity in which attraction coexists with repulsion and beauty exists side by side with monstrosity.
It is an open comment on the manipulated body, the object and the subject of urges, the victim - to the point of submitting itself to aesthetic surgery- of established values.



a discussion on “Sex Mirrors”, a series of photographs by Carmen Arrabal

Javier Panera text for the catalog for the exhibition 'Géneros???' at the Centro Parraga of Murcia. 2008-09

Carmen Arrabal is an artist who likes to disguise. Since I have known her, she has used masks and make-up in her many types of attire in an extremely disturbing manner, since she denies at the same time her “real identity“ and the one she covers.

In fact, all those concerned with the study of disguise and masks caused by psychological and anthropological preconceptions, signal the paradoxical nature of these acts. Masks cover one identity while disclosing another, thus becoming the instrument of mediation between an identity as it appears and the identity of the bearer. Through this mediation, a great paradox is achieved: the wearer shows his real self while hiding behind the mask.

“Je est un autre” said Arthur Rimbaud. This sentence has converted into an emblem of creativity for many artists who like Carmen Arrabal “work with their bodies”; I am I and at the same time, I am another. The self-portrait is a form of transformation but also the mean of assuming multiple roles… Carmen Arrabal’s masks are not only the distortion of her real personality but a way to “negotiate” her real identity with the social context in which she lives. In this negotiation, the real transformation is produced so that the one behind the mask can “live” his role as if it were his real self. This “coming out of one’s self” involves the contact between truth and lie (and its dialectical counterpart). The reality is staged in order to face the reality it involves; the world converts into a scene, a “game of masks” with all its “utopian” potential.

In Carmen Arrabal’s series of photographs and videos shown in this exhibition under the title “Sex Mirrors” the above possibilities gather strength making use of a parody of eroticism and sexual hypertrophy inducing us to doubt of her identity and the form of sexuality she favours.

This strategy is directly connected with Judith Butler’s theories. In her essay “Gender Trouble: “Feminism and the Subversion of Identity” she questions the implicit biological determinism of our cultural concept of sexuality. If, in general terms, the gender in sexual identity shows the influence of the social surrounding, biological features determine the actual sexual category. Butler discards the notion of a biological component in the formation of a sexual identity, likewise, the gender relates to a form of behaviour similar to a “performance”. This is a particularly interesting form of “transsexual behaviour” that is understood in a diffuse form, not as a simple change of sex, but as the intermingling of signals, projecting beyond the normative biological condition by choice. The work of Carmen Arrabal opens a great variety of erotic possibilities governed for seduction rather than reproduction.

In “Sex mirrors”, sexual behaviour breaks up in countless possibilities and combinations greatly related to stereotypes originating from male sexual fantasies as well as new possibilities offered by the virtual world. Genetic sex, erotic masquerades, primary and secondary characters, physical appearance, psychological sexual identity, choice of objects, body language erotic dramatization… As Butler notes, “there is no need to adapt to a predestined homogeneity”. Lipovetzky and Volkart refer in detail to the topic of identity in pleasure and auto-construction: a process of “libidinal diversification” where formal seduction captures sexual behaviour and body language, according to the same necessity of the “depersonalising of a person”. Volkart alludes to the pleasure experienced in creating false identities on the internet: “The particular pleasure resulting from this activity is not based on the notion that, over there, everything is totally different, meaning utopian and equalitarian as it was naively assumed and ideally spread according to a principle that finds its root in an aspect of semi-fiction.

The characters pictured in “Sex Mirrors” are almost always women who dramatise, sometimes in a sarcastic manner, masculine desires relating to the notion of masquerade described in the twenties by the British psychologist Joan Riviere who also introduces the notion of masquerade(*1) defining feminity as a masquerade. In 1929, Joan Riviere gave a lecture at the London School of Psychoanalysis, entitled “Womanliness as Masquerade”(*2) where for the first time an association between gender and performance as a masquerade is made. In short, “feminity can be worn and lifted as a mask” In a woman, the anxiety produced by her intrusion in the male political gender generates, according to Riviere, the “compulsive need to hyperbolically dramatise the heterosexual feminity”.

Seen from a different angle, the hypertrophied eroticism as revealed in “Sex Mirrors” is obviously conditioned by the neo-baroque exploitation offered by the infinite possibilities of new technologies related to the treatment of images. Carmen Arrabal is conscious that in an era of sham, the new technologies of the image are an extraordinary weapon to underline the incoherence of supposedly existentialistic terms such as: gender, desire or sex. Furthermore, we could attempt adding other sexual taxonomies as heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and trans-sexuality. In her book, “The second self, Computers and Human spirit” the American psychologist Sherry Turkle, demonstrates that the computer, acts for man, as a new mirror. Similarly, Freud used dreams to explain human nature and Lacan spoke of the implications of the “mirror stage”. We must now use computers, as objects of this projective necessity to better understand ourselves. This point confirms the pertinence of “Sex Mirrors” as a title.

To the underlying psychoanalytical structural model, authors such as Turkley and Guattari oppose a mechanistic model where borders between the natural and the artificial are discarded as criteria for truth, thanks to the subjectivity of technology and the implication of technological objects in the functioning of a person. “Subjectivity is not built only through the psycogenetical stages of psychoanalysis, but rather within the great social machine related to mass media and languages that can hardly be qualified as human. Such numerical identities undermine the normative status established in psychoanalysis as a causal relationship between “identification” and “desire” (One identifies to a sex and desires the other). They convert in an expression of various corporal plans that would be impossible or for the least unintelligible(*3) in other interpretive frameworks .

At last, I think some of Giulia Calaizzi’s considerations are worth applying to the work of Carmen Arrabal. The Cyborguesque: Subjectivity in the Electronic Age, 1995 is an interesting analysis of the political possibilities of the grotesque body as proposed in the last century, by Bajtin, in relation with the monstrosities of the technological hybridisation that have converted in a recurrent theme in all the cyberfeministic topics. In Sex Mirrors, Arrabal reveals, in a way, a “post human sexuality” in the sense that desire will no longer adapt to a reality conceived as historical in the Freudian expression, but as structural and intangible. Nonetheless, Sex Mirror is not about subjects or identities, but about “Desiring Machines” in a sense expressed by Deleuze and Guattari. Furthermore, there is only a step between the “Engines of Desire” and “Fuck machine”, the title given by the American writer Charles Bukowsky to one of his most humorous tales. We can therefore, ask ourselves, as does Jean Baudriard “What to do after the orgy?” Carmen Arrabal seems to answer the question by revealing new orgiastic futures, a new blending between the organic and the non-organic: a new orgy for after the orgy charged with intensity in a libidinal economy of mutant bodies, a transsexual and post-historical orgy… sexual fantasies, related more to history than biology.

English translation: Enrico Isacco


(*1)A few years before, Nietzsche was the first to outline the “artificial character of feminity” and to define feminity as an artifice, a sham, and a shape without bottom. According to Beatriz Preciado Serà: to describe the exact quality of the mask is to affirm the political validity of the devise. Rivière’s line thus parts from that of Nietzsche. Around Nietzsche’s thought in “The Artifice and Feminity”, Jacques Derida’s “Eperons, Les Styles de Nietzsche”, Paris 1978. Genre et Performance, 3d episode …

(*2)Published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, X, p.3003, 1929. See: Butler’s, “Lacan, Riviere and the Strategies of Masquerade” in “Gender Trouble. Feminism and The Subversion of Identity”, Rotledge 1990. In Spain, Beatriz Preciado is the most coherent and convincing author on the topic of the politics of art and trans-gender. See Genero y Performance, three episodes of “un Cybermangafeminista queer.

(*3)See Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Romancing the Anti-Body: Lust and Longing in (Cyber)space” Clicking In (Bay Press, 1996), p. 328.