Dallas Contemporary presents the institutional debut of Mabel, Betty & Bette, a unique presentation of photography and video works by Ukrainian visual artist Yelena Yemchuk.
For the past twenty-five years, Yelena Yemchuk has been pushing the boundaries of contemporary photography and film. What first appears to be a simple image reveals, upon closer examination, great complexity of narrative and production. Yemchuk carries out her artistic vision by working in series, questioning the validity of a single perceptual possibility and often creating overlapping storylines. As a result of years of travel back to Ukraine and her familial bonds, an underlying reference to Eastern Europe is also frequently perceptible in Yemchuk’s works. Her pieces highlight social structures and the human condition, bringing forth ideas of hope and movement against social imbalances. The cultural, political and economic shifts referenced in Yemchuk’s work stem from the break-up of the Soviet Union to current democratic changes.
Taking its title from Yemchuk’s ongoing photo series of the same name, Mabel, Betty & Bette is an exhibition exploring the often-elusive nature of identity. The artist focuses particularly on moments of change, crisis and loss of self, as embodied by an expanding cast of over 40 women photographed in a variety of international
settings. Each photograph portrays one of the three fictional women— Mabel, Betty and Bette—often portrayed by notable fashion models wearing one of three corresponding wigs and acting out different storylines written by the artist. In constructing and capturing the amnesiac moment when the dreamer wakes, Yemchuk depicts the alarm and confusion that accompany the void between dreaming and waking. The female form acts as a threshold between parallel worlds and explores the female archetype as both an actual body and a symbolic place upon which projections of self and society fall. Rarely depicted as their true selves, these famous shapeshifters draw attention to the continued malleable nature of identity in the 21st century.
On view at the center of the exhibition will be a moving image work filmed in Yemchuk’s native country in which Ukrainian artist Anna Domashyna assumes the role of all three characters. Much like a stage set, the landscapes from the film have been printed in a large format to cover the walls of the installation. Yemchuk’s life-size photographic portraits are laid over the imagery of Ukrainian landscapes, immersing audiences in a fictional and paradoxical static performance. A harsh helplessness is conveyed simultaneously with hope in everyday life through this arresting juxtaposition.
“I wanted to take advantage of the unique space at Dallas Contemporary to create a truly immersive experience for visitors,” said Yemchuk. “You are drawn into the strange, confusing world that the characters inhabit, faced with the questions: Who is this, Who am I, Who are you, and Where are we?”
A variation of this exhibition will travel to the Ukrainian Museum in New York, and the Odessa Fine Arts Museum in Ukraine.
About Yelena Yemchuk
Born in Kyiv, Ukraine, Yelena Yemchuk immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was eleven.
She became interested in photography when her father gave her a 35 mm Minolta camera for her fourteenth birthday, and went on to study at Parsons in New York and the Art Center in Pasadena. Influenced by photographers Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman, and recognized for her surrealistic whimsy and dark romanticism, Yemchuk has shot for the New Yorker, Another Magazine, ID, Dazed & Confused, and Italian, British and Japanese Vogue. In addition to having worked on album photography for The Smashing Pumpkins, Savage Garden, and Rufus Wainwright, Yemchuk released her first book Gidropark, published by Damiani in April 2011, followed by Anna, published by United Vagabonds in 2017. A new collection of photos, ODESSA, will be released later this year by Twin Palms.
Yelena Yemchuk : Mabel, Betty & Bette
13 April – 18 August 2019
161 Glass Street
Dallas, Texas, 75207