Aaron Van Dyke

Dorit Cypis: Sightlines (part 1)

Aaron Van Dyke

How does one so different look so similar? By not being so different. By having connections, but not by being the same. This triangle of women who are the “subject” of Sightlines (Cypis not only considers the Palestinian and Israeli women, but also Dr. Rodriguez, who sculpted the heads, as a subject within her work) share certain characteristics, perhaps foremost among them the “mark” of dark skin. But this conception of the dark mark is only possible if one imagines the world as “white,” or as the norm from which the mark contrasts.

Perspective isn’t the only thing, it’s everything. But perspective isn’t a thing at all, it is a relationship, again, a triangulation between context, work and viewer, each with their own history, and each in flux. The viewer’s physical position in relation to the work changes their perspective, and with it their interpretation of the work. No two viewers can take the same position. They each also bring their own perspective to the work. However, these perspectives are cultural and shared, they come from somewhere and can be communicated. They are also mutable. Because of this the viewer is implicated within the work, becomes part of the work, or completes the work through their interpretation of it. Thus, you are an active viewer who must take responsibility for your interpretations of the work.

A lineage, or vector, a relationship or tradition among women, a matrilineage (and not just a chronological one), but pierced by men, by violence. This work is, among other things, a nexus between women, image and violence, between culture, psychology, mythology and politics, between race, gender, religion and power. This “lineage” of women is pierced by violence, and it is tempting to call this violence male, the world of confidence and fundamentalisms. It is not simply male, though, since women can also practice violence, and this is part of the point of Cypis’ work. But violence is certainly not not male, that is, it is male, in that it is so often practiced by men. To deny this and separate violence from its subject, its perpetrator, would also be wrong. To add to this, to be male does not require acts of violence. This is simply an indication of the inadequacy of our thoughts, allegories and language to grasp the larger world and the complexity of these relationships. “Violence as male” is an allegory; one that is both true and not necessarily true. Cypis is endlessly attempting to complicate these relationships, not only in order to find an allegory that more closely negotiates the world, but to interrupt the habits of thought that continually reproduce these acts of violence.

Peg Brown, my partner in this endeavor (and life in general), spoke to me about this lineage shared by the women in this work (and this includes Cypis herself). This conversation crystallized this relationship for me. It made clear how complicated it was, but also made it possible to write about this work, which can seem difficult to grasp when it means we must in some way grasp our own relationship to the work.

This essay was written for the exhibition of Dorit Cypis' work Sightlines (part 1) at Occasional in Saint Paul, MN, September 25–November 20, 2004.