Martine Gutierrez, Girl Friends (Rosella & Palma 4), 2014. 

Martine Gutierrez, Line Up 5, 2014. 

Martine Gutierrez, Girl Friends (Anita & Marie 3), 2014. 

Martine Gutierrez is a star, restoring performance art to its rightful place in the pantheon. As artist and muse, Gutierrez uses film and photography as a medium uses a crystal ball, gazing into the vast unknowable realm until an image occurs — a lyrical poem, a visual ode to the mellifluous construction of the feminine as a look, a lifestyle, and the glorious manifestation of luminous artifice.

In Life / Like: Photographs by Martine Gutierrez, now on view at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum through June 16, 2019, Gutierrez takes us deep insider her magical world, where hair and make up, costume and set, lighting and casting combine the pleasures of cinema, fashion, and design.

Featuring works from the series Girl Friends and Line Ups, Gutierrez surrounds herself with mannequins, taking playing with dolls to exquisite new heights. “Mannequins very succinctly represent the artificial, especially in materiality, when compared to the imperfect reality of the human body,” Gutierrez has said. “But in coaxing the viewer’s misinterpretation, misleading with light and guise, I am looking for the place where those two worlds meet.”

There is an effortless glamour to Gutierrez’s work that belies all that the artist does to execute her vision. Gutierrez is a star, and a powerhouse — a one-woman army who shines from above, combining self-portraiture, fashion, and fine art into a fascinating study of the intersections of identity as a Latinx transwoman artist.

In Girl Friends, we see the feminine as that which is both outside and within. Here, Guteirrez and a life size mannequin don matching outfits while palling around, whether catching rays or hitchhiking through the Southwest. The work celebrates the intimacy and creativity of relationship, while posing the question: “Just what is going on?”

It’s a worthwhile question, the question of doubt, of uncertainty and our desire to relieve ourselves of that feeling. It’s a feeling further amplified in the series Line Ups, in which relationship is driven by assimilation. Here, Gutierrez is just one of a group into which she often disappears, no longer distinguished by the fact that it is she who is real.

In Line Ups, the group dominates and the individual recedes, and there is something simultaneously alluring and uncanny about this feeling. It’s very prescient, in light of the changes to come in AI and robotics. No longer do we adapt, or even conform, to the strictures of humanity — but rather we go beyond, transforming in relationship to that which we made as a simulation.

The fact that these are photographs makes it all the more precise, for the image and its viral properties, including mass reproduction and simultaneity give it power and influence in our lives, inviting a reaction — if not relationship. And then it all begins to unwind, recalling the classic advertising tag line, “Is it real or is it Memorex?”

Martine Gutierrez, Girl Friends (Rosella & Palma 1), 2014.

Martine Gutierrez, Line Up 4, 2014.

Martine Gutierrez, Girl Friends (Rosella & Palma 2), 2014.

Martine Gutierrez, Line Up 2, 2014.

Martine Gutierrez, Girl Friends (Rosella & Palma 7), 2014.

All images: © Martine Gutierrez; Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

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