I love this video by Isabel Magowan, my talented cousin and Yale MFA candidate. To me, the video depicts, with scary accuracy, the backhanded compliments people relentlessly give each other in the name of support; how often people use ‘honesty’ to justify being inappropriate or dismissive, and how girls and women are trained to cut each other– and themselves– down. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my 46 years, it’s that the awful voice inside my head, the one constantly doubting, asking– how do you know? are you sure? can you prove it? — is fueled by fear and anxiety. It’s not protective but abusive. It doesn’t help me grow but paralyzes me and keeps me small. Thank God I took the risk to stop listening. I’m so impressed Issy gets this before age 30! I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. Take a look at her startling video ‘Conversation.’
Here’s what Issy has to say about it:
Normally when I made things I am fairly improvisational, the same was the case for this piece. I thought about making a piece where all these voices are heard, the voices would be saying things I fear people think or say about me. Then I thought about all the cruel things I say to myself. I normalized this negative voice. Too often a critical thought I have about myself I just take as a truth, I forget to cognitively recognize that these negative beliefs, from an objective stand point are not true and if they were true to question what extent they might really matter. I am interested in psychology insofar as the idea of the conditions, the symptom, the diagnosis. I am interested in the ways in which our understanding of self is shaped by our upbringing, the values taught to us, the things that were presented to us as “normal.” Similarly, I interested in the extent to which one is self aware, their ability to be perceptive, to have a sense of the many factors historically and socially at work that complicate that individuals sense of self. So I combined these ideas and improvised a conversation. It is myself with myself, that being said the negative Issy is saying things she actually thinks and tells herself, but is also embodying the passive aggressive people she has encountered, people who have tried to control her through acts of physical modification (often out of love and in thinking these suggestions are helpful) quintessential mean girls, and things she fears and to a certain level knows people could say about her. Because I did not have a script editing afterward was a bit spotty. But I was amazed, delighted, and horrified by the result. It also made me sad. And that I could feel all these things, despite the fact that the piece could use a bit of a final edit, and about a minute or two or dialogue cut out, a success. The irony of course is that the success, even here, is always defined first by its imperfection. It, “will never be good enough” why this should matter, why I should care, why does approval matter, why enough is never enough is what I grapple with and is central somewhere in the core of the work I make. At a basic level I am scared of myself. I care psychologically about how we come to believe to see the world as do and how our perceptions and beliefs form. Of course I worry this inner dialogue will always haunt me, the enlightenment I seek is the acceptance of self.
Isabel Magowan is finishing her MFA in photography at Yale University this coming May. She began photographing back in 2010, during the end of her junior year of college at Wesleyan University. She is drawn to images that are quirky and is intrigued by the bizarre that can be found in the mundane. Her images attempt to offer a heightened reality that critiques the very thing she has taken an image of. See more of her work at www.isabelmagowan.com