Doppelganger (1979-81)


Shemilt, Elaine
  • This work is part of the rewind archive.

    Duration: 8'57

    Year: 1979-81

    Original formats:

    3/4" U-Matic

    Media types:


    Type of work:

    Single Screen

    Video Installation

    First exhibited: Recent Works Elaine Shemilt, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Berkshire, 30 October - 28 November, 1982

    Edition of 5 as installation with period monitor and plinth specification. Link to the video

    This video work from the late 1970s has been recovered and digitised by REWIND and forms part of the REWIND Collection. This work is one of only two remaining video pieces from a series started in 1974. Three other works were exhibited at the Video Show, Serpentine Gallery in May 1975: Conflict; Emotive Progression; and iamdead. Another video work, Women Soldiers (1982, 6.00, colour U-matic) was recovered by REWIND in 2017.

    Doppelgänger was made during a two-year artist’s residency at South Hill Park Art Centre. Since its recovery and restoration it has been widely exhibited as an installation work:  DCA Dundee, November 2012; Careof/DOCVA, Milan, Italy, 6 November- 20 December 2012; The Stefania Miscetti Gallery – Rome 2016 16 Mar 2016 → 16 Apr 2016; Contemporary Art from Scotland, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum 17 December 2016 – 15 January 2017.

    Essay by Dr Laura Leuzzi on the video work Doppelgänger

    Doppelgänger is a video performance in which Shemilt manipulates her body and her image into creating a phantasmal double of herself.
    The piece begins with a close up of the face of Shemilt in front of the camera.
    The mirror reflects her applying make-up to her face with very dry, precise gestures. During these actions two sound tracks can be heard: they are records of two psychological analysis on schizophrenia, evoking a double personality. At some point, the performance is suddenly interrupted by another image, showing the face of the artist.  Then the action goes back to what we could call the ‘mirror scene’. At that point she drops the concealer and takes a dark drawing pen: and like on canvas, evoking the traditional image and position of the painter, and the use of mirror in self-portraits, she begins to draw on the mirror in front of her.
    At the end of the performance other images of the body and the face of the artist with the overlapping layers of other body/face images appear, which evoke once more, a multifaceted personality.
    Finally we get back to the mirror tableaux and the artist has gone: the doppelgänger has taken her place.

    It was also selected for SHE:DEVIL8– Exhibition – The Stefania Miscetti Gallery – Rome 2016 16 Mar 2016 → 16 Apr 2016. This was the 8th edition of the festival of video art, created by many national and international artists and curators. The theme of SHE:DEVIL8 was the mirror, a place of reflection increased and meeting place. In 2019 a publication SHE DEVIL was published on the series of exhibitions started in 2006 and featured Shemilt on pages 218/219. SHE DEVIL published by CURA Books, Rome, 336pp, ISBN978-88-99776-27-5

    More info here:

  • Quotes:

    Elaine Shemilt, unlike so may of her student generation, has used the breakdown of individual craft barriers to present specifically human imagery in various two and three dimensional forms. She has avoided puritan formalism and the desire to outrage conventional taste – the two very active polarities of much recent art – and, instead, occupies the much more fertile ground from which so much good contemporary art springs.

    I see her, as primarily a maker of prints (as opposed to the more restrictive ‘printmaker’). These reproduced images may find their way on to video tape as naturally as on to the lithographic plate or silk screen.

    Imagery is of paramount importance to her, though formally her work is strong enough to interest the viewer unsympathetic to her images. The roots of her technique must surely lie in the early (and, I feel, best) Warhol, and later artists who have utilised the free cross-referencing that modern screen printing and lithography facilitate. Working within this broad tradition, Elaine Shemilt has used, principally, the human form (and related objects) as a unit with which to improvise. Generally cooly, but occasionally, with passion.

    Her own body is frequently used, in a totally un-narcissitic manner. Often the symbolism of the figure, in bondage and yet absolutely in control, emerge quite poignantly. As with Allen Jones at his best, apparent submission to a predetermined formula, gives rise to the paradox of power wielded by the seemingly helpless fetish figure. Only the very literal minded can see this work in terms of ‘woman reduced to sex object’ or similar cliches.
    The doppelgänger and the split personality are close to the bondage imagery and, in the video become explicit. The earnestness of Elaine Shemilt’s vision gives her work unity, whatever form it takes

    Martin Bright, October 1982 from the catalogue for “Elaine Shemilt- Recent Work’, South Hill Park Arts Centre Bracknell, UK

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