Cutting up femmes 

Seductive and sinister. Bizarre and brutal. Stare into the eyes of this fantastic female and experience a new reality. If this surrealistic she-devil could speak, what wonderful words might she say?

Windsor multimedia explorer Mark Laliberte conjures striking representations of would-be women with his new series called New Beauty Constructs, the current show at Common Ground Gallery in Windsor. An interdisciplinary artist, Laliberte calls himself an image-maker, as he works in a wide range of media from audio installation to photography to this collection of paper collage. His past collaborations with Detroit-Windsor multimedia art collectives Thinkbox, Disseminator Audio and machyderm have produced such sensual delights as “Quirk,” a performance involving spinning old spoken-word albums while projecting video fragments of displaced narratives. (You can check out some of his installation and audio work on his Web site: www.netcore.ca/~obscure.)

Although the materials may vary, the intent is always the same. The process of artmaking becomes a sort of collage, whether Laliberte is assembling sounds on a computer or piecing together bits of paper. He says, “I’ve had a long history with collage, and as I pursued collage, I became interested in working with the human form because I like the idea of the body being manipulatable as a surface. I saw themes within the culture that resonate with that idea.”

Here, paper evolves into a metaphor for the flesh. Laliberte looks at the fetishization of the body and how we manipulate ourselves and extract ourselves continuously further away from nature through technology such as plastic surgery. His work begins with the common and recognizable faces and features of women in fashion and pornographic magazines. These images, already synthetic and refined, are pushed even further by way of the collage process.

“When I start a piece, it flows fairly easily. There’s a specific process I’ve developed. I photocopy (the pictures) specifically in black and white to immediately separate them from their original source material, because these images are usually glossy color. I’m trying to think of them as photographs, and I try to use photocopiers in a way as my camera.

“The second phase is to almost completely take out the original models and create a new individual. Then I give particular considerations to gesture and poses as if I were working with the model. I’m interested in the randomness of putting a lot of different information in a particular space and in the seduction that seeps into these works based on where the source material comes from.”

A delicate texture surfaces out of lacerated papers overlapped with some grainy fabric.

“But when you step back,” Laliberte remarks, “those edges disappear, and they have a three-dimensional quality. This reveals something about the process, which in turn connects to concepts of plastic surgery. When people have surgery, there are scars.”

Laliberte says the manipulation of visual information in mainstream culture is an “outward document of its internalized desires and dreams.” He focuses only on that which has saturated our visually obsessed world: the female form. But these works don’t necessarily irritate feminist sensibilities — they seem excluded from any political ideology and just express themselves as “I am.”

“I’m not trying to make a particular statement about how I feel about the culture. I’m trying to create images that don’t necessarily gel with that culture, even though [the work] is sourced from that.”

Laliberte challenges us out of our comfortable way of looking at ourselves (or how we think we should look) and dares us to see these creatures not as hideous but as perfect in their abnormality and individuality — as the embodiment of being beautifully grotesque. His work suggests the classic tale of Frankenstein: The scientist digs up random corpses and fuses assorted body parts in order to bring about new life. In such a way so does Laliberte, as he samples parts among his piles of clippings scattered on the floor, and takes the sum of bodies and invents somebody.

Liz DiDonna writes about art for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com

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