The Mythic Being

The Mythic Being was Piper’s male alter ego. Deciding to completely change her appearance, she went out to public events in drag, sporting a short curly wig, reflective sunglasses, a moustache, and dark pants. She was often smoking, while reciting a personal thought from her journal. Each thought was a mantra on which “she meditated and directed her consciousness during that month.” The same mantra was published monthly in the Village Voice in a photomontage showing a photograph of Piper as The Mythic Being with a thought bubble containing the selected passage. To me The Mythic Being is an alter ego and not one at the same time: Piper admitted that she would never dress like that if she were a man, nor would she be attracted to such a person. I see The Mythic Being as her opposite and in that sense a complementary figure.

Elise Lammer in Mousse Magazine

Conceptualism refers to any piece of art where the idea behind the work is more important than the finished product itself. While the movement is heralded by mind rather than matter, it remained largely focused on the parameters of art itself, with many artists using the movement to question ‘what is art’ rather than ‘what can art do for our social and political world?’ It was Adrian Piper that enforced this question by introducing and addressing issues of race and gender into a largely white, and male, conceptual art movement. The introduction of these themes began in 1970, when Piper produced Catalysis(1970-73): a set of seven conceptual street performances.

In 2013, recorded footage of Mythic Being was played at an exhibition called “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art” at Grey Art Gallery in New York. Feeling that the inclusion of her work and the exhibition as a whole furthered the marginalisation of artists of colour, Piper requested that her work be removed from the show. This action shows how the artist is unafraid to confront society about its injustices. Here, it was a case of confronting the art world about its racial prejudices and the tokenisation of artists of colour, and confrontation is a theme that ripples through all five decades of Piper’s work. As the artist explained about her artwork “Four Intruders plus Alarm Systems” in 1980:  “My interest is to fully politicise the existing art-world context, to confront you here and now with the presence of certain representative individuals who are alien and unfamiliar to that context in its current form, and to confront you with your defence mechanisms against them. ”

Lexi Manatakis in Dazed digital