Daughters of Mercury

Daughters of Mercury is a series of 23 full-length oil paintings Bruesselbach painted from 2014-2016 celebrating the beauty and diversity of trans women. Each portrait was driven by how the subject wants to be seen. Bruesselbach considers these portraits introductions to people she loves and admires, seeking to support their lives and work, and encouraging the same. Each portrait is accompanied by a biography or text by the subject so as to amplify voices of trans experience.

The series views the effort of feminine appearance in the face of hyper-visibility as art in itself. It seeks to evade typical manifestations of the cis gaze in blending, stealth, and transition narratives, and collaborates with women and non-binary people with a variety of presentations and experiences. The common factor is targeting by transmisogyny, an intensified form of misogyny and sexism that not only endangers those who do not conform to male birth assignment, but is symptomatic of society’s violence against femininity itself.

Many of the portraits are nudes, or near so, because subject and artist wanted to engage with the historical tropes of the medium and its relationship to depictions of female bodies. Exposure levels are a reflection of the subject’s love for and feeling about their body. It engages the ways women look at women, not an elimination of sensuality but an expansion and complication. Using oil paint on canvas and (non-continuous) poses, often as long as 12 hours, not only conceptually elevates the subject, but allows for conversation and invention outside the dynamic of the photographic standard.

Daughters of Mercury engages with cissexist assumptions about female bodies in representational painting, and advocates for more trans women in fine art. Trans artists are increasingly making work that eclipses the inevitable issues (arguably still present here despite maximum ethical care) with depictions by cis artists, which are often about the novelty or conformity of trans bodies, and often either overly sexualized or desexualized without regard for self-representation. While cis women’s bodies have long been used as a stand-in for beauty itself, trans women’s bodies were either erased or not regarded as beautiful in the same way. These portraits are one of many ways to re-conceive female beauty.

The title of the series is neither a literal reference to mythology or astrology, but an embrace of mutability, deriving from alchemical concepts of Mercury as the mother of metals and the element of fluidity. Minds, bodies, and society can and should change; culture, artifice, and shifting images are truth. Oil painting works as a kind of magic transmutation from metal and organic pigment into a projection of living personality. Through old technology and hybrid imagery, Daughters of Mercury invokes the possibilities of better living through chemistry, medicine and speedy communication, and a more cyborg feminist future.