The Museum of Selves by Juliana Engberg

Christine Webster’s Black carnival series uses the shiny surface of cibachrome photography to set up her hall of mirrors which displays a parade of cross-pollinated personae. In Webster’s carnival, humans cross not only dresses, but genders and species, offereing much to contemplate with regard to Lacan’s idea of the construction of identity through the reflection of representation.

Webster’s work draws upon many traditions: the wall frescoes of Pompeii, the carnevale of medieval times, the circus of P.T. Barnum, the cabaret, the centre fold of ‘playboy’ magazines. There are also a number of ‘poses’ which have come directly from ‘art’. One of the central motifs of Black Carnival, for instance, is the ‘bride stripped bare’ to reveal the masculine body in a movement which both reinforces and questions the Duchampian proposition. The ‘bachelors’, too, have taken on more than just suits, they have different sexualities.

In using these traditions Webster keeps in place the performative elements; she interacts with her models and they with her in a game of identity switching, fancy dressing and role playing. Straight, gay, tranie, this carnival is never a momentary masquerade ball from which the participants can depart to emerge into the daylight abd assume their ‘true’ identities, but a permanent stage of identity in flux.

© Juliana Engberg 1994, curator of contemporary art and art writer, from a text called The Museum of Selves, from the catalogue for exhibition Persona Cognita, Museum of Modern Art at Heidi, Melbourne