A Desperate Swipe at Immortality: Marc Tasman’s 10-Year Polaroid Self-Portrait Project

Memory  /  Time Travel
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What is it that strikes us first about Marc Tasman’s decade-long endurance art project, where he took at least one Polaroid self portrait every day for 3,654 days? (It was important to pick a stopping point in advance, Tasman noted in an interview. Because if he didn’t “it’s not really art. It’s a compulsion, or an obsession.”)

Is it the physical realities of such an analog project? We may squeeze off a thousand digital images on vacation, but what if each spit out a paper artifact?  According to Tasman, his photos, if laid side by side, would span over a quarter mile, or nearly 4 football fields. Their installation at the 2010 Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art was 40 feet wide by 16 feet high. (Leading, maybe, to unintended effect: according to one reviewer, “some visual nuance was lost as we strained to see the oldest images at the top, much like we struggle to remember what’s past.”)

Is it the “eerily prescient” use of an instant, disposable medium like Polaroid before the selfie era, before YouTube or Instagram?

Is it the passage of time marked by these images? Voyeurism? Something else? “When I learned that Tasman’s maternal great-grandparents were killed during World War II and that no photographs of them survived,” wrote one critic,  “this work took on a striking poignancy. Is he searching for the faces of lost relatives in the wall-filling installation of himself? Is the sheer endurance of his project a statement of survival?”

Indeed, the project may have as many facets as images:

There are few rational reasons for doing this. One is to document and observe my own face and body and its features as they bulge and shrivel; as hair grows and recedes. This work is a visual diary of my moods. A means of telling stories (my own, as well as others’). A sketchbook of sorts, from which ideas for paintings, performances, videos, animations, digital images, writing and websites spring. Proof that I existed. A desperate swipe at corporal immortality. A mystical jab at salable art in the gallery system. It is a discourse on identity. A way to process and digest reality and memory. A linear, unedited memoir in nonlinear times.

— Marc Tasman

Also in the series Magic vs. the Bony Guy: Six Lifespan Projects That Speak to Us All