Like most of her contemporaries, conceptual artist and photographer Alice Shaw has identity issues -- not to mention a lot of humorous questions about the efficacy of portraiture.
These are the themes that Shaw keeps cycling back to, anyway. Her 2006 book, People Who Look Like Me, contains dozens of sneakily casual-looking snapshots pairing Shaw with a variety of doppelgängers, including family members, dates, and random customer service representatives. Her 2007 show at Gallery 16, A Group Show, featured individual portraits of Shaw and her "opposite," Rhyanna, a teenaged African-American tranny, in vaguely similar clothing and identical settings. I wasn't able to see A Group Show, but a quick flip through People Who Look Like Me leaves me eerily aware how whimsical Shaw's choices for pairings can be (based on things as simple as a part of the bangs) and thus how manipulable my perception actually is.
Shaw's current show, (Auto)Biography, expands this line of investigation beyond the photograph, incorporating different sorts of portraiture, including handwriting analysis, tea leaves, psychic predictions and palm reading. She even hired an astro-locator to tell her where she should be living (not California) and asked a synesthetic friend to describe her color (a dark, hot pink).
The results -- typewritten letters, astrological charts, a teacup with a cigarette butt placed inside -- are installed next to a series of new works created in response to the different analyses. It's a hodgepodge of media, with everything from photographs and prints to drawings and sculptures. Stylistically, nothing exactly matches up, and yet, typical of Shaw, the works reverberate off each other's pleasing ways: sometimes challenging their companion works, sometimes gently poking fun, and sometimes serving to confuse.
If you visit, I recommend first taking a tour around the room without looking at the titles. At times -- as in the case of a faux salt-print of a palm leaf (made by spray paint) next to an impression of Shaw's inked palm -- knowing the titles makes the puns much too literal. In other words, before you ask your date to explain herself, take stock of your first impressions. They might actually be more nuanced than what she provides. As a matter of fact, despite the show's underlying humor around the idea of "the real," after describing my impressions of Shaw's personality based on what I saw in the show to a friend who actually knows Alice Shaw, I'm not so sure that I'm getting it wrong.
(Auto)Biography shows at Gallery 16 through July 3, 2009.