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Ray's Living Room
Reversing to a Destination: Mimi McCann's artful approach to the tabloid
By Clinton J. Buhler
November 2011 Issue

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Photo© Courtesy of Mimi McCann


The connection people feel with celebrities in American culture is a peculiar one. Although most of us have never even met a celebrity, there is a feeling that we nonetheless know them – we’re even aware of some of the intimate details of their lives. That we only know them through the mass media means that our impressions of these celebrities is not based on even the most impersonal of physical encounters. Rather, we understand a celebrity as the composite of all the images we’ve seen and headlines we’ve read about them. This is especially problematic since the images are never neutral; they are either impossibly glamorized or carefully chosen to display imperfection or hedonism.

The work of local artist Mimi McCann currently showing at Ray’s Living Room in the Short North engages the impersonal and intimate relationships we share with celebrities. While undoubtedly taken from photos in magazines, it would be difficult to track down the specific sources of her drawings. Working in a sketch-like manner, McCann reduces the image to its most basic outlines, at times removing detail to the point that the figure is just barely discernible. Interestingly, this often removes the very elements that act as the focus of the original image – those features that are touched-up to raise the person to the level of unattainable beauty or, conversely, those unflattering attributes that are evident when a celebrity is caught unawares by a paparazzi photographer. McCann will even go so far as to remove the entire face or other highly charged features such as a woman’s breasts.

The resulting simplification of the photograph through McCann’s sketch-like approach effectively neutralizes these usually highly charged images. To further strip-down the images, McCann divorces them from the inflammatory headlines that usually accompany them. The dual interpretation that occurs between word and image (what Roland Barthes calls “anchoring”) has the powerful effect of leaving the viewer with the impression that both word and image are evidence of each other. For example, imagine a photograph of a celebrity getting into a car with the headline that they spent the whole night partying at clubs. The photograph would seem to be evidence of the night out, but without the headline it actually demonstrates nothing because we couldn’t possibly know when or where it was taken. Having the image presented to them without context, the viewer is left to come to their own conclusions about the person depicted.

McCann’s compositions in the exhibition each contain several of these simplified images juxtaposed against one another. The reason for the particular combinations of images, however, is impossible to discover. Some works, such as Untitled #4 do seem to be drawing deliberate comparisons between particular images. McCann has placed a traditional image of masculinity, in this case the “Steel Curtain” of the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line, against one of femininity, here presented as a row of women in fashionable dresses. The symmetrical arrangement of the two faceless groups leads the viewer to consider the types of gender roles being reinforced through mass-media imagery.

At times, McCann’s larger compositions begin to resemble a patchwork quilt with the surface broken up into blocks of color, each of which contains a single image. One of these pieces is a large loosely hung piece of canvas containing various images of the recently deceased Michael Jackson. The illustrations of Michael – ranging from performances in his younger years to press conferences and paparazzi images of him walking under his umbrella – present the viewer with a varied picture of the man in all phases and aspects of his life. McCann’s work allows the viewer the opportunity to reflect on an entire life understood through the lens of popular culture.

The apparent randomness with which McCann has combined celebrity images invites the viewer to play with them, constructing narratives or finding meaning in particular juxtapositions. Walking around the show at Ray’s Living Room, one can engage not only with the images within a single composition, but begin to consider how the images in different works play off one another.

In the absence of our usual tools of interpretation for mass-media imagery, the viewer of McCann’s works must reflect upon their own personal position toward the celebrities. Refreshingly, McCann resists the temptation to interpret the celebrity worship of our society in an overbearing manner, instead surrendering that responsibility to us. Rather than presenting us an argument, the artist hopes to start a conversation.

“Reversing to a Destination," Mimi McCann's solo exhibit will run through November 27, 2011, at Ray's Living Room, 17 Brickel St. Open Tuesday - Sunday 11-5. Call 614-390-2305 or visit Ray's Living Room on Facebook.

© 2011 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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