Following the path opened up by Marcel Duchamp’s Rrose Sélavy and her “tragic sister” Claude Cahun, Urs Lüthi (Lucerne, 1947) makes explicit the androgynous character of the work through deliberate disguises, flaunting an artistic language that explores the possibility of difference, otherness. A pioneer of research related to the body and self-representation, since the early 1970s he has authored a series of estranging self-portraits which seek to bring out his own intersexual characteristics, often presenting himself to viewers in a male version and in his complementary female alter ego. In a refined interplay of evocations of being and appearance, interpreting and interpreted, Lüthi’s work is marked by a sense of the double recounted through himself, giving a body to the fluid substance of ambiguity, the co-presence of changing identities.
“Perhaps the most significant and creative aspect of my work is ambivalence as such. (…) The result of my investigation is the portrait. A portrait which has an existence of its own and which lives outside me as soon as the floodlights go off. Whoever observes it compares it with his own existence until he modifies himself, divides himself… This is my contribution to self-awareness, of one’s limits, one’s excesses, one’s possibilities… and also of the different realities which live within the same reality,” declared the artist, who triggers a seductive game with the viewers, inducing them to look at themselves in his image (in which he himself is mirrored). One of the artist’s most celebrated photographs is emblematically titled I’ll Be Your Mirror (1972), so charging his image with an ambiguous and seductive valence. Loneliness is perhaps the most recurrent feeling evoked in his works, brought out by his use of black and white to highlight the dimension of memory. Another aspect of his work is time: in Just Another Story About Leaving (1974), the artist lives through the progressive stages of aging, adopting as a mode that is added to the dichotomous condition of male and female.
Self-portrait in Six Pieces (1975) is an impressive photographic fresco, characterized by two seemingly unconnected narrative levels: the upper level has five self-portraits of the artist, presented in poses like a model, in sequence. The black strip superimposed on the eyes, evoking an idea of censorship, seems to suggest disquiet bound up with his own identity, expressed in the desire to make himself somehow unrecognizable. In the panoramic photograph below the sequence of negated self-portraits, a woman in her turn conceals her identity by wearing large sunglasses: she appears to be saying goodbye to someone on a beach but in reality is facing the viewer, from whom she seems to want to take her leave. The work expresses the slippage from self-representation to the reflection of the self, mirrored in the perception of another person, and in the viewer, in a sort of kaleidoscopic intersubjective comparison.