Photo London 2020
Wed, 7 October – Sat, 31 October 2020
What is beauty? What is femininity? What is representation?
At Photo London 2020, we present four female artists – Agata Wieczorek, Anna Kutera, Güler Ates, and Anita Witek – whose works explore these questions in very different ways. Addressing at once the contemporary treatment of the female image in mass media and more historic representations of women, these four artists play with renditions of the female body through presence and absence, visibility and concealment.
Anna Kutera, in her series Post Mass Media, addresses the consumption of images directly. She takes as a starting point the glamourized representation of the female body in women’s magazines: images that try to seduce the audience with youth, beauty and perfection. Kutera carefully crumples these images as a way of deconstructing them, then re-photographs the destroyed images, turning them back from three-dimensional objects to two-dimensional photographs. Her gesture is meant to frustrate messages that bewitch and seduce, in order to expose the banality of mass media and the way these standardized templates of beauty have crept into the public consciousness.
Agata Wieczorek (who uses the pronoun they) shows us a very different take on the female body in their series Fetish of The Image. Where Kutera conceals what was visible, Wieczorek’s goal is to give visibility to what is concealed. Inspired by photographers such as Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin, Wieczorek’s photography portrays hermetic industries and socially marginalized groups, such as trans communities, that are often out of view.
Wieczorek’s figures are rendered in a highly stylized, hyper-real manner. Dressed in shiny latex, their expressions are empty; their mannequin-like bodies and porcelain-white faces occupy a fluid space in between genders. They are in fact heterosexual men dressed up as women, their clothes and make-up suggesting a theatrical, almost grotesque expression of femininity. The calm, graphic background in deep red and olive green only heightens their flashiness.
Güler Ates’ and Anita Witek’s photographs do not directly address mass media, instead taking inspiration from depictions of women in other cultures, times and media.
Since 2007, Güler Ates has been making photographic series in which a recurring figure appears: a woman concealed underneath a sumptuous, colourful cloak of fabric. She walks within various interiors, such as museums, churches and stately houses, elegantly striding between displays of historic and cultural artefacts. The lone female figure forms a mysterious, almost uncanny apparition in between the architectural grandeur. The veil embodies a multiplicity of historic and cultural meanings; her presence reconfigures these Western spaces of knowledge in an interesting and intriguing way.
Anita Witek’s photographs go one step further, completely eliminating all female forms. Her series Artist and Muse, based on two paintings by Egon Schiele – a self-portrait and a portrait of his model and muse, Wally Neuzil – was first shown at the Leopold Museum in Vienna earlier this year. The Leopold is home to the largest collection of works by Egon Schiele; Witek was inspired not only by the paintings themselves but also by her historical research into the tumultuous relationship between Schiele and his model and lover Wally Neuzil.
In Artist and Muse, Witek used as her source material the posters produced by the Leopold Museum of two Egon Schiele paintings in its collection –Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant (1912) and Portrait of Wally Neuzil (1912). In line with her usual practice of presenting the left-overs of photographs once all the significant subject-matter is taken away, she cut out the main figures from the posters, using the remnants of the Schiele’s abstract, expressively painted background to create new forms. With their beige and brown hues, the forms subtly hint at skin, but their ultimate source remains unknown. Witek’s forms present an absence rather than a presence: the remaining abstract background can only hint at what was depicted.