On the occasion of Paris Photo 2023, the christian berst art brut gallery is presenting, for the first time in the form of an exhibition, the series My Tv girls by Tom Wilkins. This series of television image captures was created between 1978 and 1982 in Boston and invariably features women, with one exception: the series concludes with Tom Wilkins’ sole self-portrait as a woman. Who is Tom Wilkins? This is the question that Sébastien Girard has been trying to answer since 2011 when he acquired 911 enigmatic Polaroids, reproduced in the book My Tv girls, which he published in 2017.
We know very little about Tom Wilkins, except that he is believed to have lived from 1951 to 2007 and resided in Boston, as evidenced by other more personal Polaroids. So, how can one interpret such a collection of candidly captured images? Beyond the fact that they illustrate with a certain rawness how the small screen – and American society as a whole – was shaping the image of the desirable woman at that time.
It seems that Wilkins raises much more fundamental questions, ranging from the quest for identity to the sublimation of desire. Through this collection of female subjects that he elevates to the status of icons, Tom Wilkins both reveals and conceals himself in the same act, leaving us alone with this bluish beauty of this captivating ensemble.
With the self-portrait that concludes this series, Tom Wilkins becomes the subject of his own research. He poses as a woman, captured in a mirror, with his face hidden by the camera and wearing a bra. Nonetheless, this cross-dressing – as trivial as it may seem – reveals a profound need for a man to escape the gender assignment by paradoxically using the stereotypes perpetuated by the society of his time to define his preferred gender.
What we know about Tom Wilkins can be told in one image: the self-portrait he leaves behind, which acts as the key to his enigma. It is by sifting through and assembling these Polaroids, much like an editor, that Sébastien Girard discovers the main clue hidden at the heart of the work: his signature on the white border of the Polaroid. This singular self-portrait appears to overlook the entire collection, revealing the complex dimension of the gender question.
The series My Tv girls is both unique and kaleidoscopic, wholly absorbed by its sole subject, carrying passion to the extent of methodical, diligent, and studious documentation. This work possesses the magnetism of the stars he appropriates by photographing. His action appears fascinated, infatuated, becoming as natural as a reflex through repetition.
At the turn of the 1980s, shot after shot, Tom Wilkins becomes a photogram of femininity, encapsulating the eager and comfortable voyeurism of the television viewer. Wilkins goes to the extent of constructing a memory.
Tom Wilkins : My Tv Girls
christian berst art brut
From November 9 to 12, 2023 grand palais éphémère