BEYOND THE MASK
The works of Corry Siw Mirski
By Tina Sauerländer
Her fleshy red brims over with vitality. It is the color of the blood flowing through our veins. The constrictions, stitches and scars in Corry Siw Mirski's work drastically reveal the fragility of the human body. In their alleged brutality, they symbolize the primal fear of the decline of physical well-being and our own existence. The materials used by the artist as well as their stylistic language are soft, organic and natural. They contrast cultural constructions with right angles, corners and edges. Corry Siw Mirski uses straw, seeds, cherry pits or cicada skins, which she incorporates into silicone along with red pigments. A translucent, shiny and skin-like surface results. The natural and perishable materials evoke fertility and vitality as well as decay and death.
The wormlike objects such as Nullierung (Zeroing) (2013), Retorta (2014) or Underdog (2015) resemble mangled, hand and footless bodies. The artist also does not include a skull. With this symbolic beheading, Corry Siw Mirski opposes rationality as the useful driving force of human action and comprehensive explanation for the state of the world. It would never be rationally comprehended in its totality. As humanity just creates less complex, but plausible, logical relationships and thus a controllable, ostensible order to things. The mercy of an incomprehensible and unmanageable power is perceived as frightening. The common (red) thread with which Underdog is laced together, and the rough stitches in other works such Angel or Retorta I keep the fragile, unstable creatures together. They symbolize the restraining forces, behavioral patterns, fears or negative feelings beyond our perception unconsciously directing us that the artist now pulls out of their repression.
The works with faces such as Blick-Dicht (Gaze Proof) (2015) or Heilige Tochter meine I + II (Holy daughter my I + II) (2014), are often based on the same original photograph. For the artist these are not meant to be a specific person. She is not looking for the interior of an individual through their visual appearance, but instead the essence of existence as expressed in the human face. In other photographic images, Corry Siw Mirski takes up the idea of the inseparable bond between face and mask. In Kirsche (Cherry) or Randschicht (Outer Layer), it is the cut out eyes from a silicon face, and in the sculpture Stammbaum (Family Tree) (all 2015), the artist molded a plastic face with hemp hair to a head, so that it simultaneously resembles a mask. The vulnerability and fragility of one's own body and the impermanence of the self tread upon the face of appearance in a special way. As here, vitality and finiteness are most strongly linked with the perception of personal identity. With skull drawings (since 2013) and works like Schädelholz (Wooden Skull), Übergangsgesicht (Transition Face) or Fragiles Gleichgewicht (Fragile Balance) (all 2015) connects the artist faces, masks and skulls together. Through their trinity, the idea of the earthly life's finite nature intensifies into a Vanitas motif. One's own mortality is often perceived in our secular consumer society as the frightening endpoint of our individual existence, and—just like feelings of shame, guilt or jealousy—given negative connotation and expulsed.
For the artist the mask (latin: persona) symbolizes in particular the self-created identity that lies like a veil over actual existence. One person is, according to the original meaning of the word, no more than a role within a community or a character within a play. For Corry Siw Mirski the true access to the essence of existence lies beyond this mask and the rationally detectable, outer world. The artist is in favor of recognizing the inner nature and allowing supposedly negative feelings or fears. Life and death are part of a natural cycle and inextricably intertwined. The thought of one's own mortality could approach the real, human existence. However, for Corry Siw Mirski, the key lies in in the complete abandonment of self-chosen identity and belief in the configurability of individuality. Inspired by the French-Lithuanian philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, who speaks of non-selection of one's existence, the individual freedom does not lie in the (conscious) training of one's own identity. Instead it lies in accepting the inner, involuntary and inherent self. Admitting this lack of influence on identity, on (cultural and societal) living conditions or on death as an uncontrollable force could remove the primal fear of one's own existence. Or as the artist says, “I think, only if one is no longer afraid of their own physicality is one capable of enjoying life.”
Corry Siw Mirski’s works seem macabre, violent or threatening at first glance because they symbolize repressed fears. Thereby the artist calls for a change in the perception and evaluation of these supposedly negative emotions in order to integrate them as a normal part of our existence and life. She thinks in the spirit of the ancient philosopher Epictetus, “It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.”
For additional context about the deeper philosophical backgrounds of Corry Siw Mirski works, see her Final presentation at the Academy of Fine Art (2015) and the Artist Talk between this author and the artist.