Media representation: I became my own Döppelganger... (2010)

Media representation can be a bizarre experience, especially for those experiencing it for the first time in some volume. Such is the case for Mark Pimlott, an artist/designer and historian who exhibited in the 2010 Venice Biennial, and worked with celebrity designer Philippe Starck and celebrity hotelier Ian Schrager. He’s also a former model—and on Halloween, offers an insightful allusion.

Media representation: I became my own Döppelganger...

About ten years ago, I was asked to attend an audition for an advertisement, for a brand of coffee, to be made in France. The agency who handled me (who passed around my photograph and physical dimensions), were rung up by the French publicity agency Publicis, whose team of art director and copywriter had devised a scenario, with settings, shots, subjects, characterisations, and actions, all remarkably detailed. The audition consisted of the usual formalities: name, age and agency spoken to camera, frontal and profile views, front and back of hands; and the "special task", in this case, the drinking of fluid (orange juice) from a small coffee cup. This was to be done, in the words of the Publicis scenario "so that the aroma of the coffee invaded the senses", and in the words of the casting director, "with intensity".

The successful audition resulted in my casting for the part, which required a week of shooting in the western suburbs of Paris, on a film studio stage, with a French film director and a crew of about seventy people, excluding the caterers. After having lunch with the core of the crew in a small restaurant nearby, I was settled into my environment. A dressing room with a star on the door (some other star), mirror, lights, couch, vase with fresh flowers, and the drink of my choice, which at the time was champagne. As it remains. I had a "dresser" or stylist named Clémentine and a make-up artist, and since I was to be the only actual protagonist of this little film, these people were obliged to attend to me at each and every moment. Both in the dressing room and on the set––a three sided room of ample height, hand-painted in wistful terra-cotta and salmon tones, with a parquet floor and a comfortable leather club chair and a small table beside it featuring a bonsai tree––I was pressed into being a man of a certain age, who had lived wisely and well, and had a family of a beautiful wife and similar children, present through numerous wooden toys scattered about the set, and ersatz framed family photographs (of at least four women and some eighteen children) arranged on a ledge which ran around most of the room. The scene was a cliché of the French bourgeois interior, somehow typical and recognisable, yet with nothing correct about it. It was a sign for such an interior, and its choice of colour and minimal indication of materiality were ample enough to convey the message that my character was comfortable, and lived in "normal" bourgeois comfort in some French urban centre, though not so urban that the pleasure of the elements could not be enjoyed: there was a tall window at the back of the room to one side, through what appeared to be sunlight shone. Upon a closer look, this turned out to be three high-wattage lamps, one above the other, blasting the construction of polythene stapled to roughly-sawn softwood. This was to be my "home" for the next five days of shooting.

My dresser and make-up artist had the task of making me appear to be a normal man of a certain age, comfortable in his achievement and his leisure. After many alternative costumes for such a role were mooted, which involved much undressing and redressing, ironing, pinning and primping, the stylist, make-up artist and director arrived at the conclusion that I looked best in my own clothes. Brand-new versions of these were sought and purchased at a local outlet of the international retail chain from whence they came, and, after more fussing, pinching and pulling, I was ready to be made up. Before this mysteriously laborious procedure began, I saw in the mirror that I looked like a version of myself as dressed by my mother or by someone who did not know me, which, in fact, was the case. The make-up artist proceeded to disguise all my facial features with a heavy foundation and then various rouges and blushes, mascara and lip-paints which gave me the appearance of being at once drained of all life and in the full bloom of health. I was assured it would be the full bloom of health that would be registered by the camera. In my mask of powder and paste, I carefully moved to the stage for my close up.

Indeed, the camera was very close, within 15 centimetres of my face, as the shoot began. The reason for the make-up was so the skin would not appear as skin does when looked at so close to: horrible.

I realised that in front of the camera, I was a version of a person, a simulation of a real person who resembled me or who I resembled. The shoot demanded that I do simple things, like hold a cup, lift it to my lips, pretend to ingest its contents (which was petrol, rather than coffee: the colour of real coffee does not look enough like coffee), appear to enjoy it, allowing it to "invade my senses", "with intensity", put it down again, look satisfied, satiated.

All of my movements, which had to be made at both regular speed and in slow motion for the benefit of the computer operators of the post-production team, were re-enactments of real actions, representations of them.

The procedure was not particularly comfortable, because it seemed so artificial, an artifice which in this case betrayed falseness....

it was clear
that I had been transformed into a person
who resembled me,
and who moved in a particular way.

I had been made
into a representation of myself,
my own

Döppelganger.




Excerpted from The condition of publicity (2005), presentation text for a lecture given by Mark Pimlott at the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) in Rotterdam on 8 April 2005.