The Mythic Being
1972 – 75
November 7 – January 16, 1998
Opening: Saturday, November 7, 6 – 9:00 p.m
Adrian Piper's second solo show at the gallery focuses again on a major body of work from the early to mid 70's shown complete for the first time. In this case the work involved the creation of a fictional character, independent of and in some ways opposite to Piper, whom she then released to the world. Performance, documentations of performance, cartoons published in the Village Voice and drawings on black and white photographs document the evolution of the creature she refers to as The Mythic Being.
The first appearance of what became The Mythic Being was in 1972 when Piper, as a spontaneous experiment at home, dressed up and 'performed' the role of a man, walking around, smoking cigarettes and appropriating the manners of masculinity. She took photographs of this activity and published them (in her phrase 'dispersed them') as paid advertisements in the Village Voice. At the beginning the character spoke words from personal journals Piper had kept from 1961 through 1972, published in chronological order at the rate of one year per month, or one 'advertisement' per month (62/Jan., 63/Feb. etc.). The use of her own autobiography pegged The Mythic Being as her creation, as less real than her. This was to be the logic for the run of the extended 'piece,' with the character taking on a life of his own at the end, as a result of the sheer volume of personal information Piper had poured into him. After a year, however, she began to write specifically for him, speeding up the process.
I / You (Her) from 1974 is a series of 10 altered photographs with drawn speech 'balloons', charting the transformation of a single photograph of Piper as it gradually takes on the features of The Mythic Being. The accompanying balloons are filled with a text/monologue expressing disappointment with and an increasing hardness and very personal anger towards an unnamed betrayer. In this piece, the 'character' of The Mythic Being escapes his beginnings as an idea of Adrian Piper and becomes a fully and psychologically independent figure.
The other works in this show refer to the later independent life of The Being as he goes about his way as a young black man living a life parallel to Piper's. At this time Piper was attending Harvard. So does The Being. Pieces include: The Mythic Being Cruising White Women; The Mythic Being Getting Back (a documentation of a mugging) as well as the character's philosophical musings about Kant, friendship, and altruism.
The project concerning The Mythic Being is Piper's first overtly political work. Before this point she was known primarily as a conceptualist. But the new works come directly out of the older. Her first conceptually based question: What is masculinity? became the more personal: What is masculinity to me? which became What is black masculinity to me? until The Mythic Being, as a being instead of an idea, was born. At this point the intellectual, the personal, the political, and the esthetic joined together in some of Adrian Piper's most powerful and important work.