“What became fascinating during the process was the resistance or the impossibility of turning my parents into each other. What I was arriving at was a half-mom, half-dad creature, but to create this composite I had to reverse our roles in the sense that my parents made me, and now I was remaking them.”
About the artist
Janine Antoni creates works that draw upon the intimate rituals of everyday life, such as eating, bathing, sleeping, and washing. Her art operates in the space between object and performance, as in works sculpted with her teeth or tongue, a painting executed on the floor using her hair as a “brush,” or drawings made with her fluttering eyelashes. Antoni used her parents as sculptural material in this photographic triptych Mom and Dad (1994). Working with prosthetic make-up, wigs, and clothing, she refashioned her father to look like her mother and vice versa. She photographed them together—mother/mother, father/father, and mother/father—in the poses of classical portraiture. Their inverted images confound gender distinctions and question the neatly divided dichotomies of paternal/maternal and masculine/feminine, as Antoni explains in the quote above. In the end, the artist decided that this triptych was really “another self-portrait, because that is what I am, a biological composite of the two.”
- Take a careful look at this triptych—three photographs—by Janine Antoni. What do you notice? What seems to be happening as you look at this sequence of images?
- Do you think the artist knows these people? Why or why not?
- Each of the photographs captures the same two people—the artist’s mother and father. (Have students look at the image again and discuss further. If we were to meet her parents, which two people among the six photographed here are closest to what they would actually look like?)
- What message is Antoni communicating by portraying her parents in this way? What difference would it have made if she had just done one traditional photograph of her parents, that is, the two people you just identified?
- How do you think she created this work? Was the photo manipulated in some way?
- (Discuss and compare with earlier student speculations about her process.) Antoni will often perform acts or rituals inspired by everyday life as an important part of the creation of her work—what act is she performing here?
- Although these images portray her parents, Antoni considers this work a self-portrait. Why?
Explore Antoni’s concept of melding the features of two people into one by using collage rather than stage makeup. First, take a digital face-front photo or photocopy of each student enlarged onto an 8 1/2 x 11–inch page. Have students choose someone they would like to be “merged” with such as a historical figure, a contemporary leader, a person in the news, or a classmate, depending on the project’s relationship to the curriculum.
Next, have students find an image of the person they are researching either online or from a book that can be scanned or photocopied to fit on an 8 1/2 x 11–inch page. Make several copies of both faces. Have them combine the features from both faces to create a person with aspects of each.
Once the new portrait collage is completed, write a short biography that combines the student’s traits with those of the person they have researched.
Using computers and a scanner, ask students to bring in portrait-style photographs of their parents, relatives, or friend, and a portrait of themselves. Using a simple imaging program like Microsoft Office Paint or a more advanced program such as Adobe Photoshop, help students scan the images and import the files. Crop the image so that the faces are the same pixel size, and then import the images into separate Layers using the following commands:
File > New,
File > Open,
File > Crop,
View > Actual Pixels
Then, have them superimpose their own physical features onto those of the other image to create a new portrait image. Import each image into two separate layers and use the opacity tool to super-impose the two layers. Certain tools such as the Smudge tool are particularly helpful for blending facial features. Instead of Adobe Photoshop, students can also use the Cut and Paste edit tools found in most imaging software programs to build a digital collage of facial features taken from the two portraits.
Print the finished digital images on fine photographic paper, and mount them on the wall between the two original photos to form a triptych. Have students try to recognize physical traits passed from their parents or relatives