Frankfurt am Main

New Clear Family

25 March – 22 April, 2018

Opening reception Sunday 25 March 2018, 7-10 pm

Exhibition text by Gabriela Acha

“I grant you that in Fum-Fudge the greatness of a lion is in proportion to
the size of his proboscis–but, good heavens! there is no competing with
a lion who has no proboscis at all” – Edgar Allan Poe, Lionizing

When lacking any other visual information but its protuberances, the outline of a face
viewed from the side simply seems like an abstract line, whose ascendant and
descendant parcours could emulate a mountain range. These mountain peaks known
by some as facial protuberances – such as the nose, the mouth, or the chin– are
known by others as Nasion, Pronasale Columela and Glabella. Meaningful patterns
can be traced by connecting the points those names represent, and thus, a lateral face
profile is not just a mere random line, but a set of landmarks aspiring to harmoniously
connect.

The nose’s end, its highest peak, is not just a nose peak, but the cephalometric point
Pronasale. In one of a million relationalities, Pronanasale is virtually linked to the most
prominent point of the chin’s softest tissue, called Pogonion. The upper lip’s summit is
not merely a sensual protuberance, but Labrale Superius, which almost kisses the
imaginary line connecting Subnasal and Pogonion. Considering the whole head and, if
there was a line cutting it in two, both sections above and underneath must match in
order to be constitutive of a balanced face.

Orthodontist Viken Sassouni – among other Scientific luminaries – devoted his life to
drawing these lines and curves, and to naming these points. With compasses and
rulers, crossing out heads reduced to their outline, depicted through radiographies,
Sassouni developed metric systems to be utilized in the judgement of how a pleasing
anatomy should appear. The harmony imagined was based on equal proportions and
matching sections, and thus the virtual line connecting the Pogonion with Pronasale
would determine how many degrees distanced an individual from normality. Like the
stars in the sky which form Andromeda or Aquarius, those landmarks can be grouped
and connected, revealing a certain reality of a person’s morphology and its concord
with an aesthetic establishment. A lot can be told by a head’s mere contour, by an
ultimate reduction of such a complex group of features which are the face!

Prior to the advent of photography, and much prior to the advent of radiography, head
profile cuts from black cards appeared as a cost effective way to record a person´s
appearance. These simplified forms of portraiture concealing the ornamental forms
omnipresent in painting and sculpture, became popular in eighteenth century French
society. Because of their simplicity and lack of visual details, these outlined shapes
filled in with dark colours were reproduced and collected on a mass scale and viewed
as a viable form of entertainment.

After landing in this eighteenth century French society from Biarritz, his Basque name
Zilhoeta – an area full of chasms and caves– was Francisized to Chevalier Arnaud de
Silhouette, which better fit in the snobby noble context of the time. And so, Zilhoeta
became Silhouette, and his son became finance Minister under King Louis XV’s. His
goal in politics was to balance society’s wealth, but his strict approach was seen as
stingy by the nobles, and his name found colloquial use as a designation for
cheapness and lack of distinctive features, by saying “ faire de quelque chose à
silhouette”. In those days, it was considered that a face’s outline provided no relevant
visual information regarding the subject’s features. Therefore, due to their cheaper
price and supposed incapacity to provide any meaningful information, these black
portraits outlining the face’s contour became what we all know today as silhouettes.

 

All images: “New Clear Family”, 2018, installation view at Frankfurt am Main, Berlin.
Photo: Trevor Lloyd