Image/Counterimage: Tarrah Krajnak, VALIE EXPORT, Sanja Iveković, Ana Mendieta, Carrie Mae Weems
April 22 – August 27, 2023
The point of departure for the Photography Room presentation is the work Master Rituals II: Weston Nudes by the artist Tarrah Krajnak (b. 1979 in Lima, Peru, lives in Los Angeles, USA). In this eighteen-part series from 2020–21, she recreated female nudes that the North American photographer Edward Weston began taking in 1927, and which were published posthumously in 1977. Krajnak presents herself as photographer and model in one in this work. Her appropriation of Weston’s photographs highlights the traditional hierarchic relationship between artist and model, in which the model is shown as passive and her or his part in the creative process is typically ignored. Moreover, Krajnak’s performative and photographic nudes are directed at the canon of Western photography, which is imbued with a white image of ideal femininity.
VALIE EXPORT (b. 1940 Linz, Austria, lives in Vienna, Austria) is represented by photographs from her series Body Configurations from 1976. In them, a woman dressed in everyday clothes is shown integrated in various poses into the architectural forms of the Burgtheater in Vienna. The passivity with which she is positioned is reflected by the titles of the individual images: the woman’s body is fitted into the forms of a stately building from the 19th century. It was during this period that the bourgeois notion of gender characteristics emerged, which deemed private space to be a place of reproduction and thus female, and public space, as a place of production, to be male.
In the work she makede prior to the break-up of Yugoslavia, Sanja Iveković (b. 1949 Zagreb, Yugoslavia, lives in Zagreb, Croatia) turned attention to the paradoxical image of woman under the regime. In her series Sweet Life from 1975–76, she juxtaposed voyeuristic snapshots from the tabloid press with private photographs of herself, which were similar enough to suggest that their content was related. The photos are accompanied by cut-out fragments of headlines, such as “insieme al ‘night’” (the whole night together), “skandalozna” (scandalous), and “Popularni iza pozornice” (popular behind the scenes). Their salaciousness goes back to the separation of public and private spheres in bourgeois society around 1900, in which women were relegated to the private sphere.
The photographs by Ana Mendieta (1948 Havana, Cuba–1985 New York, USA) in her series Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) document a performance from 1972 in which she glued a beard onto her face. The series was Mendieta’s project for her Master’s degree in painting at the University of Iowa. That same year, she began using her own body in her art, together with materials such as blood, stones, feathers, flowers, and smoke.
In her series Not Manet's Type from 1997, the artist Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953 Portland, OR, USA, lives in Syracuse, NY, USA) depicts herself—indirectly, using a dressing-table mirror—in various postures, including as a nude model. In the accompanying texts, Weems observes with biting disdain that modern European painters never chose Black women as models; instead, their beauty was excluded. At the same time, she addresses her uncertainty as to the angle from which she should approach the subject: as artist or model? On the level of the gaze, she switches the uncertainty around: the mirror frames the intimate scene and thus makes the viewer guilty of voyeurism.
Common to all of the selected images, which were made during a period of around fifty years from 1972 to 2021, is that the artist’s own body is performatively and photographically included in them. Using their body as medium, the artists investigate specific power structures at work in their particular social surroundings and render them visible.
Curator: Barbara Engelbach