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Sophie Jung: Multitude Identities and Improvised Objects

Sophie Jung performing within her installation "It's Not What It Looks Like"


The following article is a response to Sophie Jung’s solo show and performance "It's Not What It Looks Like" at Sophie Tappeiner, which can be seen until 14. October 2017 in Vienna.

Being familiar with Sophie Jung’s work for some time now, I keep concluding that she might just be the artist with the most relevant, interesting and enjoyable practice I’ve come to see over the past five years. ‘A great artist!’ is how I would refer to her. Other than my personal familiarity with Sophie, I often wonder why I am so confident in her greatness? What makes a great artist? A big question, and perhaps it’s bold to shine light onto my enthusiastic claim of Sophie Jung being one of them. However, I’d say that a great artist bears an intriguing artistic personality within them.

This begs the question: what is personality? How does it form? And what is an artistic personality? As opposed to Freudian and contemporary psychological theory, I have issues defining this as a singular term for starters: ‘a’ personality sounds awfully wrong (1). And although psychological research today seems to recognise that the definition of personality is deeply complex, it still appears to be struggling over the classical differentiation between separate character traits (2). Now luckily, I am not writing a psychology paper but talking about art. And without further ado, I would like to introduce the concept of multitude personalities - a concept that I certainly didn’t invent, but have been reflecting on more and more as I think about Sophie’s work. It’s not a hard theory to grasp: don’t we all expose different personalities at different times in our everyday life? I’m not talking about being two-faced, rather I mean seeing the protagonists in life and art as individuals with a messy bouquet of character traits.

Since I’ve bluntly smashed the discipline of psychology, I am respectfully avoiding applying the concept of multitude personalities onto humanity as a whole, but will rather take some art-historical examples into consideration. And since we’re talking about great artists, I would point to one of Marcel Duchamp’s alter egos ‘Rrose Sélavy’ as an essential example. My aim is to suggest that there is a strong resemblance between him/her and Sophie Jung (ahem). Rrose is one of the many pseudonyms Duchamp used in his various artistic outbursts, focusing on the ‘eros’ of life by celebrating its pure pleasure with enjoyment (3). With Rrose, he built upon his constant play with alter egos to mock the fallacy and romanticisation of the traditional, singular, subjective purpose of artistic practice, which Duchamp explicitly abandoned. Instead, Duchamp and Rrose questioned their artistic personalities through multiple forms and purposes, going as far as the holistic impersonification of Rrose. Duchamp's experimental journeys into a rich variety of modern expressiveness made him widely recognised as one of the most important protagonists of the avant-garde, and his concepts, once radical, are prevalent nowadays.

Left: Rrose Sèlavy in a phorograph by Man Ray. Right: Sophie Jung

(B) (C)

Sophie Jung’s practice draws resemblances to Duchamp’s work in that the unfolding of the identities within her works undergo a similar interplay between the subjects. In Jung's all-encompassing body of work, the expression of various personalities is regularly exposed and that applies to both the objects and the performative elements. Note that Duchamp’s objects contain a similar source in a way that the objects or readymades correspond to the personalities on stage.

Let’s take Jung's most recent performance in “It’s Not What It Looks Like”. We’re looking at an installation that is divided into several stations, each of which provides focal points for her performative works. Questioning these stations’ existence through her imaginative and linguistically-intriguing explorations, she plays with words, meanings, converts a sentence into a song and tests a few puns but then changes back their meanings, and finishes with an anecdote, or maybe not. Whether in reference to herself or the objects in question, Sophie is playing with both words and identities. During her performances, her associative word chains are running and dancing, ebbing and flowing, entering and leaving my mind. It’s as if each object and its according articulation, produces a new layer of identity, which Sophie weaves into her own, imaginative reality.

Not only does Jung’s natural talent for the slightly theatrical and the exposure of multiple identities highlight the resemblance between her and Duchamp, but so does the characteristics and performativity of the objects. In Duchampian terms, Jung’s objects may be considered as assisted readymades, which are found objects with a minor injection of the artist. These objects often build a connection between the impersonification of the staged personalities and objects, which takes place in both of the artist’s practices. The obvious example in Duchamp’s oeuvre is “Why Not Sneeze, Rrose Sélavy?”, a birdcage containing cuttlefish bone, thermometer and 152 sugar cubes made out of marble, but I’d like to bring a more recent and non-Duchampian example into play in order to move my praise for Sophie Jung’s work beyond that of pastiche and towards the realms of mysticality and personification of objects.

Illustrations from Richard Wentworth's "Making Do and Getting By"

(D) (E), (F)

Richard Wentworth's “Making do and getting by” project (see illustrations above), shows ordinary snapshots of the modern, urban landscape. Displaying oddities of human improvisation that would otherwise go by unnoticed, he exposes objects that are removed from their original function. What seems most fascinating is that these objects are re-invented in a new and unexpected way: a flimsy clothes-hanger serves as additional support for window frames, a beer lid is used as an ashtray for a single cigarette, and then a wellington boot forms a doorstopper (4). Whatever situation Wentworth chooses to present in his elaborative consumption of reality, he displays the removal of the original purpose of an object, allowing us to question intention, purpose and meaning of objects per se. The objects and spatiality that surround us tilt in a way that forces us to question the reality we happen to live in. In a way, Sophie conducts a similar exploration of objects, in that she takes their allocated meanings away from them. Jung pushes beyond Wentworth’s ideas though by converting one thing into another, and then over and over and over again. It’s a sort of spatial continuation of Wentworth’s odysseys into the new surroundings that we seem to find ourselves in the everyday of today.

At first glance, there is always a magical confusion when looking at Wentworth's photographs because of the new, unexpected functionality displayed. Once identifying what is shown in them, and what the improvised intervention is supposed to achieve, I find myself arriving in a pleasant state of recognition and chuckle about the absurdity of what I've just noticed. I experience a similar initial confusion when listening to Sophie’s words. The pace of her poetic transformations from original values into new ones are sometimes too fast for me to follow. But it is precisely that speed and the confusion around the performance that makes me arrive in a state of recognitive pleasure as I find my way back, suddenly understanding what she just said and finding use in its absurdity and abstraction. Personally, I think it is important to get confused on a regular basis, especially when experiencing performative arts. Without confusion, and our internal contextualisation, the magical way of understanding the world through the animal that is art wouldn’t be possible.


(1) Freud seems to justify the shaping-up of a personality via a staged process, which is linear and (surprise, surprise!) narrating from childhood, with all its parental influences and potential traumas. See also:

(2) Comparison between Paul Jung’s introvert vs. extrovert theory with the five factor model (FFM). See also: Jung, C. G. (1921) Psychologische Typen, Rascher Verlag, Zurich – translation H.G. Baynes, 1923 and; Goldberg, L. R. (1993). "The structure of phenotypic personality traits". American Psychologist. 48: 26–34.

(3) "Eros, such is life", which has also been read as “Arroser la vie.” (French for: to make a toast to life). See also: Caws, M.A (1999) The Surrealist Look: An Erotics of Encounter, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(4) See also:


(A) Sophie Jung performing within the installation "It's Not What It Looks Like", picture shot on site

(B) Rose Selavy (Marcel Duchamp photographed by Man Ray, c. 1921, Image courtesy of Dada New York) Image Source:

(C) Sophie Jung performing within the installation "It's Not What It Looks Like", picture shot on site

(D), (E), (F) Photographic Illustrations from Richard Wentworth's "Making Do and Getting By". Image Source:

#sophiejung #sophietappeiner #contemporaryart #performance #improvisation #multipleidentities #readymades #marcelduchamp #rroseselavy #richardwentworth #makinddoandgettingby

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