“I’m describing this image from memory. He is lying face down on the table with his arms straight by his side and his palms turned to the ceiling in an uncomfortable seeming twist. He looks festive in black silk pajamas. His face has been turned to the camera with his eyes closed, looking almost as if he has been laid out for a wake on his dining table and crudely flipped over. His body divides the image in half. Disregarding the horizontal pose he was photographed in portrait format, forcing the interior to become part of the scene. The corner of the room is windowless and entirely clad in dark brown wood, barely lit by a brass chandelier and some sconces. Scattered behind his body on the large table are the remnants of a meal, trash piled on an empty plate and some glasses and cups. There are several jumbled dark blue chairs around him. The image is bare of any indicators of time. On the wall behind the table is a credenza with some decorative objects. Between two identical Greek-style vases stand a collectible plate that features a large Playboy bunny logo in gold and two bottles of Playboy water. Above it, partly overlapped, hangs a small Jackson Pollock painting in a lavish frame (a copy of an original sold at auction many years ago). Interrupting this altar-like setup is a black handbag bursting open with a white plastic bag popping out.
Other than him there is no one else in the photograph.”
In the early years of photography one had to sit still for a long time to have one’s portrait taken. Soon special armatures were invented that supported the model hidden to the camera’s eye. The body had to become a statue itself to be able to be photographed.
It is understood that photography turns its subjects into objects. But in Laura Schawelka’s photographs the opposite happens: They start with objects that denote bodies that are elevated to subject status through the leveling effect of photography. What is the difference between the photograph of a human and the photograph of a doll?
Schawelka’s work “Ornamentation” consists of three images that are collaged in a grid of four frames. One image shows a shop window with a headless male mannequin with realistically modeled hands. Its suited torso is hugged by an Airdancer – one of these inflatable dancing tube men one would find in front of a used car dealership. Here two different stages of abstracted, copied, ornamental bodies collide. While both signify “man” they look nothing alike.
A similar dichotomy is found in a postcard collaged into one frame. It shows “Hand of Rodin Holding a Torso” from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One of Rodin’s assistants had made a cast of his master’s hand while he was lying on his deathbed and placed a little female torso in it. The hand is a direct copy, a replication true to size, while the female body is a work of art, abstracted without a head or complete limbs. What is supposed to read as a depiction of the artistic process is a metaphor for depiction itself. While created differently, cast and model are equated as an image.
The third photograph is spread over three frames and shows a further level of abstraction of body and body surfaces. A cream colored liquid, Muscle Milk, is flowing over grey leather car seats. The fetish of mimicking bodies and their functions becomes apparent. Yet in their frames and in The Tip’s display case none of them are actually available. Photography keeps them arms-length away.
To the camera there is no difference between a dead and a living body and a doll. Photography captures them all in time alike. In Freud’s remarks on the Uncanny it is this almost lifelike body double that strikes as eerie. Parts of our brain know that we merely deal with a composite image, which depicts inanimate objects, but as artful animals we also cannot help animating what we see. The orchestration of the different ways these oppositional capacities are employed forms the allure of Schawelka’s work.
All images copyright the artist and The Tip, Frankfurt
Laura Schawelka – Ornamentation
26.10.2016 – 12.02.2017
Oppenheimer Landstraße 85H