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Twins in art

"The Cholmondeley Ladies", 1600-10
“The Cholmondeley Ladies”, around 1600-10

The theme of twins emerges every now and then in various genres of visual arts. Depicting two, nearly identical and yet different characters leaves a big room for interpretation, it is also fascinating in terms of psychology – to such extent that in time, twins started to be associated with evil and demons.

First of all, let’s take a look in Tate Gallery. One of the most intriguing paintings from Tate collection is in my opinion the double portrait of Cholmondeley Ladies. No one knows who painted it or even who exactly the ladies were. It is known, however, thanks to a short inscription in the corner of the painting, that the two women were born on the same day, got married on the same day and even gave birth on the same date. Seemingly the two sisters and their babies are identical. But as we know, the devil is in the details: the woman on the left and her baby both have blue eyes, while the pair on the right has brown eyes. Small differences can also be noticed in dress patterns and jewelry worn by the two sisters.

Man Ray „Kiss” –  photography, 1930
Man Ray „Kiss” – photography, 1930

Equally interesting example of female symmetry in art is a surrealistic photo from 1930, by Man Ray – the lead representative of European avant-garde of the 20s. There are a few versions of this enigmatic picture. The faces of both women are very close to each other, yet the viewer can feel the cold and distance between them. All models in Man Ray’s works are like dolls from a dream, instilled in theatrical poses, mysterious and fascinating – like true Femme Fatales.

Man Ray’s photography was most likely an inspiration in creating the most famous twins in the history of visual arts. Naturally, I mean Lisa and Louise Burns from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, which was a film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same title. It is quite visible that the main element of the whole film’s construction is symmetry. In almost every scene there are frames making use of symmetry and mirror reflections. This can be clearly seen in the architecture of corridors, rooms, doors etc. Kubrick also makes use of numerous mirrors as an important decoration element. It is thanks to a reflection that the heroine reads the word redrum as murder. In the sphere of meaning, symmetry in Kubrick’s masterpiece symbolizes evil, split personality, schizophrenia and duality of human nature.

Scene from "The Shining" by Stanley Kubrick
Scene from “The Shining” by Stanley Kubrick
Cover for Jane's Addiction album and Jane's Addiction poster
Cover for Jane’s Addiction album and Jane’s Addiction poster

After the commercial success of “The Shining”, the theme of twins became recurrent in other films, music video clips and graphic design. In my opinion, a very interesting example of album cover with the effigy of Siamese twins is Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction. It rarely happens that a talented musician has also gift for manually creating visual art, which was the case for Perry Farrell – the band’s lead singer. He designed the cover himself according to an idea which came to him in a dream – a 1:1 glass sculpture featuring Siamese twins. Inside of their transparent glass bodies there was supposed to be burning fire. The idea proved to be too complicated for realisation and in the end, the final version were two wax sculptures of female bodies. They sit in a strange (reverted) rocking chair and their heads are on fire. Knowing that it is a real photography and not photomontage, the picture makes a strong impression. Unfortunately, in the 80s when the cover was designed many people were simply offended by it and it was quickly censored. The title Nothing’s Shocking proved to fit quite well in these terms  Most stores selling records declined accepting the album with such cover and it had to be wrapped in paper. Despite problems with distribution, Jane’s Addiction longplay achieved the status of platinium record and Q magazine marked it on the list of the best 80s albums as 32nd. A slight allusion to Nothing’s Shocking and censorship problems is a poster advertising the band’s tour in 2012 (above on the right).

Morbid Angel “Illud Divinum Insanus” – The Remixes, by: Metastazis, 2012
Morbid Angel “Illud Divinum Insanus” – The Remixes, by: Metastazis, 2012

Demonic, female effigies and symmetrical compositions were readily used by designers in metal album covers. A good example might be Morbid Angel’s cover. It was designed by a French studio Metastazis. As the designers said themselves, the symmetry here symbolizes fight against nature, as there is no symmetry in nature – it is a human invention, showing supremacy of culture over nature. Symmetry is of course also associated with satanic symbols.

Twins in music videos
Twins in music videos

Some worthy of attention examples of use of the twins motif in video art are music videos: “Long Hard Road Out Of Hell” by Marylin Manson, ”The Perfect Drug” by Nine Inch Nails, “Karmacoma” by Massive Attack. All of these are pieces of art as videos and also great songs (if someone like this kind of genre). The NIN video clip was directed by Mark Romanek, who was behind high-budget videos for Madonna and Michael Jackson. This time he created a highly artistic piece. The title “Perfect drug” refers to obsessive love and two, beautiful women shown in the video symbolize the torn heart of the main character. The clip is full of fascinating symbols and deserves a separate analysis, so I’ll come back to it on another occasion.

Symmetry, dolls and mirrors in Manson’s “Long Hard Road Out Of Hell” are a straightforward reference to symbols of evil. Marilyn Manson, a music journalist, purposely recreated himself as a hybrid of Charles Manson and Marilyn Monroe, that is, a mix of sex, fame and evil. As he said himself, he wanted to become an effigy symbolizing today’s America. That’s why mannequins, weird hybrids and dehumanized creatures are often featured in his music videos.

Massive Attack’s track “Karmacoma”, in turn, ideally fits the video, see for yourselves: The clip was directed by Jonathan Glazer and is one more creative interpretation of Stephen King’s book. I think that identical, polite little girls will always be an inspiration for artists.

Viktor Hertz “The Shining” pictogram movie poster
Viktor Hertz “The Shining” pictogram movie poster

And finally – a reference to Kubrick’s “The Shining” was also made by Victor Hertz, the artist behind a poster series “Pictogram Movie Posters”, which feature famous scenes from cult movies. Familiar movie motifs are represented by simple shapes and symbols – pictograms. This radical graphic synthesis worked great for Kubrick’s twins, who became the icon of horror for good.

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