“The most kissed face of all time,” she’s been called—but hers isn’t quite the shattering, cross-temporal love story you might imagine. In the late 1880s, a young woman’s body was pulled from the Seine River in Paris, and though her identity was never discovered, a pathologist at the local morgue saw to it that her face would never be forgotten. Stricken by her frozen expression, the pathologist made a plaster cast of the young girl’s features—a death mask—which was widely reproduced and soon became a de rigueur wall adornment among Paris’ bohemian society. (Rumor has it everyone from Vladimir Nabokov to Albert Camus owned a copy of the mask, the latter who likened her smile to the Mona Lisa). Immortalized by her last look, the girl became known as L’inconnue de la Seine (“The Unknown Woman of the Seine”) and over a century later, her face was used as the first CPR doll—thus earning her nickname for the world’s most-kissed visage.
In a new video and sculpture installation by London-based artist Lucía Pizzani, the anonymous Inconnue is incarnate yet again—proving the mask’s popularity with 20th-century writers and Surrealists to have carried into the present. “Her story was forgotten in the midst of time but I bring it forward once more, weaving it together with similar cases of our day in which women have leapt into rivers,” the artist has said. “The reasons vary from the dilemmas of modern life that many women go through, to cases of violence and depression. But the thing all these stories share is the fact that they all fall into oblivion. The art installation is based in the relation between the poetic —even romantic—notion of Hamlet’s Ophelia and the rawness of the current day stories exhibited.”
At PINTA New York, Oficina #1 will display Pizzani’s single-channel videos accompanied by her plaster sculpture of the never-forgotten face. “The video in my piece shows four bodies that fall into the water, recreating the death and resurrection of these stories at the same time, for these women come to life once more before the audiences,” she says. “The video emulates the power of resurrection attributed to the imagery of the death masks. The white and unpolluted mask, with eyes closed and a mild smile, is a perfect duplicate of the unknown woman. The duplicate that conquers death.”
On view at Oficina #1, PINTA New York 2013, Booth PV2, Nov. 14th – 18th.