Identity issues

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Photo: Ruairidh Bowen

The more I think about ‘identity’ as a concept the more fluid and elusive it becomes.  It is so easy to consider identity as name, rank and serial number and then leave it at that.  However, our identity is neither as limited nor as static. Identity is constantly in flux within itself and rarely appears alike to any two people. I am a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a cousin, a second cousin, a student, an ex-pupil, a flatmate and a friend – and that is just the start of it.

Thus, ‘Identity’ was an interesting choice of theme for ST.ART’s first issue of 2012/2013, and their first since their rebranding and launch of the website st-artmagazine.com.  A new year, be it academic or calendar, always seems to go hand in hand with identity and reinvention; a chance to recast your identity in to the more academically-motivated, skinnier, smoking-free version of yourself who drinks 2 litres of water a day and doesn’t fritter away money on Starbucks and Haribo.   ‘Identity’ was a relevant choice for this issue of ST.ART, particularly as the independent magazine tries to redefine and state their own.

Unfortunately, the theme could have been too much for ST.ART.  ‘Identity’ has an obvious place within the traditions of art and this is portraiture.  From Titian to Cindy Sherman, artists have represented themselves in their art and have explored the relationship, and frequently the disparity, between identity and appearance.   Any publication or exhibition that tries to grapple with identity as a concept could not ignore the genre of portraiture.

However, ST.ART’s fifth issue seems to deal with nothing but portraits.  Although there was work featured at the launch event earlier this month that branched out from portraiture, this unfortunately was not featured in the issue.  This is not to say that the artwork featured is bad because it is both good and a testament to why ST.ART should exist, as it amply shows the wealth of artistic talent that St Andrews harbours.  I personally found the work of Celeste Sloman, Sage Lancaster and Sunjana Dalal particularly enchanting. My complaint lies with the curating of the issue.  There seems to be little attempt to engage with ‘identity’ in a more thoughtful or critical manner.  It would have been interesting to see a more investigative approach to the concept of ‘identity’ that artists like Nan Goldin or Sophie Calle have taken in the past.  Calle in particular has  mythologised her own identity in a way that makes a viewer aware of our intimacy with illusion.

‘Identity’ may have been the theme, but the result was an assortment of quality works with little sense of an identity.  This is a shame as ST.ART has a roster of talented artists, a committed team and a wonderful ambition.  However, on this occasion I found this ambition fell a little flat and would love to see ST.ART produce the open-minded and critically engaged issue they are certainly capable of creating.

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