the narcissistic sinner:
warren criswell's pictures
by donald kuspit

The question of the self: "who am I?" not in the sense of "who am I" but "who is this 'I'" that can say "who"? What is the "I," and what becomes of responsibility
once the identity of the "I" trembles
in secret?
.....................................................................--Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death*

 Warren Criswell's art is "self"-obsessed, to say the least. In The Trespasser, 1993, we see Criswell urinating on a museum installation of an ancient Egyptian temple. He has not only crossed the rope barrier separating the viewer from the space, doubly sacred by reason of being that of a museum as well as temple, but treated it profanely—a double act of disrespect, all the more daring by reason of its nonchalance. Moreover, he is caught in the act by a flashlight, presumably that of the museum guard, in the viewer's position. In other words, he is in the museum at night—a third breaking of the rules. Criswell is a criminal, a transgressor, all the more so because of his everyday  
The Trespasser, 1993, oil & beeswax on linen,
60 x 48 inche

 appearance—the banal white plastic bag dropped on the floor beside him is a wonderful touch of realism—in the mysterious, awesome place. But our outrage at him, and the darkness of the scene, may blind us to the fact that it is his own temple that he is violating, as the giant statues of him, flanking either side of the phallic monument, indicate.Thus, with narcissistic grandeur, the artist immortalizes himself and his sacred art in a museum, but with comic realism recognizes, through an everyday act—a necessity of nature—his ordinary humanity, vulnerability, anxiety, and, implicitly, mortality.
* Translation of Donner la mort by David Wills, University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 92. [Derrida wrote this in 1992, but it wasn't published here in translation until 1995, a year after Donald Kuspit wrote this essay. I, trembling secretly, added it August 21, 1998. W.C.]

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