Thursday, May 03, 2007

138 Eyes


To stare at part 4 of Russell Herron’s 69 magazines project is to feel like a stalker or a celebrity obsessed fan. If our modern obsession with celebrity is difficult for you to take your first impressions of this show at the Rhythm Factory will surely have you cringingly looking away from the unflinching eyes of Martine McCutcheon, all 138 of them. Those eyes appear on the covers of a variety of magazines which detail McCutcheon’s appearances on TV listings and gossip magazines, glossy newspaper supplements, lad mags and mid range womens glossies between 1996 and 2003. From ‘Tiffany’ the promiscuous teen soap starlet of Eastenders we chart her progress through to the ‘real’ Martine seven years later, through this succession of appearances on these covers we see the story of the public life of McCutcheon.

Anyone familiar with Russell’s 69 magazines project and his other works will know that this territory is an ongoing theme. Celebrity, history, media portrayal and the construction of image run through his work and with this particular project the magazines are not only about the changing image of the woman herself but how an image can change over time and how the media and ourselves as viewers and consumers construct that image in our own minds. For some Martine is portrayed as Granny’s favourite teenage granddaughter for others she is the curvy, pouting, lad mag girl, occasionally she is the down to earth clothes horse sporting fashions that twenty and thirty-something women can aspire to. But it is beyond the face on the cover that my mind fixes on to life beyond Martine, the societies within societies that each magazine markets to and portrays and the communities within communities that all celebrities inhabit and that some of these magazines are examining. TV quick readers will get their fill of Martine and the edited snippets of the activities of her fellow Eastenders actors and others across Emmerdale, Corrie and the like, the fictional world of Tiffany being more of interest than any insight into the actress beneath the mask of her television character. The loaded magazine fantasy of either Tiffany the character or Martine the actress is subordinate to her attractiveness as fantasy girlfriend material, in Cosmopolitan she is the young female clothes horse, hey girls, do the diet, ditch the old boyfriend for a better one, buy the fashions and you too could become fantasy girlfriend material too. On the covers of Hello or OK magazine McCutcheon inhabits a world in which her latest relationship break up exists in the same community with talk of Liza Minelli’s wedding or the announcement of a new Hollywood stars pregnancy.

You could chart your success and position in society using Martine as a mirror, she and the magazines that depict her are your measure, in the mirror of celebrity does the image that you see mean A, B, C or maybe only Z. Which list are you?

Where is the real Martine McCutcheon behind the face on these covers? Considering the varied nature of the magazines she appears on you can be assured that you will never really find out, no matter what these magazines might tell you. Like an actress in a variety of guises ‘Tiffany’ becomes lots of ‘Martine’s’ but on these 69 magazine covers you know you are looking at but not really seeing Martine McCutcheon. That world beneath the glossy cover is not your own but if you can suspend reality you can fool yourself that it is real and you too are a part, if only fleetingly, of it.

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