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Elena DorfmanArtist statement: Fandomania - Characters & Costume Play
Exploring identity through portraiture is at the forefront of my work, with the blurred lines between fantasy and reality a continuing theme. In my most recent series, Fandomania: Characters & CosPlay, I examine the pop-cultural phenomenon of "CosPlay." CosPlayers dress up in costumes and live partly as characters from video games, animated films, and Japanese graphic novels. This exploding subculture, adapted from the Japanese otaku (roughly translated as "geek") craze, flourishes every day of the year at convention centers, college campuses, private clubs, and in homes across the world.
Japanese manga (comic book) characters, emulated mostly by girls, have heightened the demand for more elaborate narrative constructs, fantasy and adventure experiences. The theater of CosPlay has no boundaries, is unpredictable, open-ended. It includes both the fantastic and the mundane, the sexually abhorrent and innocent, female characters who become samurai warriors and brainy scientists, and male characters who magically change their sex.
This series allows a behind-the-scenes peek at a fan-based phenomenon that has yet to manifest its full impact on youth culture. By maintaining the focus on the individuals and the characters they have chosen to emulate, I allow each individual a personal spotlight in which to enact their fantasy. My hope is that the viewer can imagine cutting and pasting each figure into a fantastical landscape drawn from video games or manga; each existing equally comfortably on-screen as in real life.
Elena Dorfman (May 2007)
Lest the unininiated dismiss Dorfman’s cornucopia of curiosities as some derranged Halloween party gone awry, it’s perhaps fruitful to consider the genesis and evolution of this highly articluated and aestheticized lifestyle. As long as fans of the socially debased medium of science fiction have gathered to share their passions with like-minded fiends, they have always indulged in some degree in role-playing and costumes.
From the very first World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in 1939 to the purported coining of the term cosplay (a Japanese linguistic contraction of costume and play), by a Japanese studio executive at Worldcon in 1984, the increasingly sophisticated and cool fantasy of transformative outfitting has cross-pollinated across Japan, which has the largest, most visible, and least stigmatized cosplay subculture; the manifestation that Elena Dorfman documents, which has reached epic porportions in the United States, is its own particular admixture between Asian Otaku and patently American vernaculars.
Layered over Japan’s manga comics, cartoon animation (anime), and video games, cosplay in the United States has donned other preexisting mantles of identity play, from Renaissance fairs to Star Trek conventions to Rocky Horror audience participations.
While initiates joke that Haloween is nothing but national cosplay day, most of us can hardly imagine investing so much time and devotion in making costumes for trick or treat. We can more easily identify with the psychological transaction of identity that all costumed characters share. What is compelling, and to a certain degree disquiting, about Dorfman’s cosplayers is how closely they approximate simultaneously the most innocent and the most preverse aspects of role-playing. Already confused by the purient gaze that both mass mediates and denies the inherent sexuality of children, subject and viewer alike find the spectacle of eroticized idols, fetish fashion, gender-bending ("crossplay"), and hybrid confections of dominance and submission a delirious experience. All this searching, sublimating and sui generis self-replication is inevitably supercharged with latent desire. Considering that the youngest acolytes are tweens, and the majority of cosplayers are girls in their late teens through twenties, the process of "becoming" here seems a natural expression of the way we find out we are by donning different personae. What fits, what’s comfortable, and what - no matter how briefly – must be tried on at least once to see how it feels?
Identity, as both a coded lexicon of social signals and a commodity, is like fashion. Cosplay teeters somewhere between a healthy semi-sanctioned and controlled way of acting out fantasies and the kind of red flag that’s thrown up when you see a kid with a fascination for his parents knickers. Enjoy or squirm before Elena Dorfman’s pictures according to your own level of comfort, but know that here is a celebration of beauty, not of travesty.
© Carlo McCormick (Used with permission)