Fragments of a Muse

Kody Pangburn & Gabriel Zimmer

Last summer, I came across the docu-fiction film, Academy of the Muses (La academia de las musas), directed by Jose Luis Guerin. The premise of the film is such: University Philology Professor Rafael Pinto leads a seminar on the role of the muse, focusing on artistic and literary examples. It is important to note that the professor, his wife, and students, many of whom he is involved with, actually exist. Guerin did not create [them]. However, the story is fictionalized.

Throughout the film, female faces are more often than not covered up or distorted by glass, mirrors, water, and different lighting techniques. In an interview with Dana Knight, Guerin explains the “real” people were shy. He goes on to say, “I found this solution which is also symbolic of the confrontation between the outer and inner life of a character. This juxtaposition of images and their reflection is a metaphor of cinema itself.”

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Later that summer I became aware of the public domain catalog of high resolution images of artworks at the Metropolitan Museum. There are thousands of images available to download at any time. This realization, along with said film, inspired the still life photo series titled, Fragments of a Muse. The idea was to highlight the inspiration behind the art (muse) as oppose to the finished product, or the art itself.

New York-based still life photographer Gabriel Zimmer and I scoured the Met database for images of female faces and torsos. We included both paintings and sculptures. Our plan was to incorporate art historical references as a way of contextualizing the role of the female muse within art history. Our focus was to complicate the images using different techniques, mainly layering semi-transparent material, including: paper, plexi, water, and gels over underlying imagery. In addition, we employed colored light to enhance the black and white archival images. We played with the illusion of depth in the image by using the two-dimensional printed matter and ephemera as objects and lighting them in a manner that distorts the reality of the image.

Guerin is later quoted as saying, “reality is full of contradictions, conflicts between reason and feelings.” In a sense, this is what Gabriel and I were trying to do: highlight and shield muses of history, to propose a dialogue on the beauty and the exploitation of a woman’s role in history and art.

Text by Kody Pangburn