Arles – 9 – Viviane Sassen

entrance to the exhibition

entrance to the exhibition

I get to see the work of Viviane Sassen on the morning of my last full day in Arles. Fashion is not something that interests me very much since my choice of clothes and other objects tends to be more functionally orientated and much that is fashionable is not only expensive but not built to last.

With Viviane Sassen, I do not see clothes that greatly appeal (they are almost entirely for women) yet most of the photography seems centred around the female models and the various positions and forms their bodies might assume. What is striking about Sassen is her consistent innovativeness so much so that nothing seems to be repeated.

display at the exhibition

display at the exhibition

Writer and curator, Charlotte Cotton calls her a “Bright Star” suggesting she is one of those rare photographers who stands out in the world of fashion (she does not say who others might be yet surely Guy Bourdin might be considered one!?).  For Cotton, “Every image … is an exercise in photographic experimentation. It feels as if each aspect of a picture and its subjects is consciously put out of (conventional) kilter …

What are her images really about? Sex? Beauty? I think probably sex but they are beautiful in the way they are presented.

One technique she uses is by printing onto Cotton Rag paper with Ultrachrome inks, giving what is probably a black and white image a light red light. This is evident in one image from the Kutt series and entitled *4/2003

Viviane Sassen, a Dutch woman, is considered to be an artist having won the Prix de Rome in 2007; she is also recognized as an award-winning fashion photographer. Her approach can be considered surrealist. Often the bodies she features assume warped dimensions in which there is a sense of the mysterious often of an obvious nature since some of her group photos reveal bodies entangled in which the limbs seem not to be owned by anyone in particular.

table display of Sassen's notes and drawings

table display of Sassen’s notes and drawings

Sassen like Bourdin, makes notes before a shooting session – drawings help her to realize her ideas; these are seen in a table top display.

One large room in the exhibition is devoted to projected work. There is a TV sized screen showing a gyrating body as stills of the brightly dressed model jerks past (see end of this review). On a larger screen, there is a succession of photographs, examples of her work, some of which appear in the exhibition as physical objects.

self-portrait in the exhibition

self-portrait in the exhibition

If Sassen’s work is about sex, there is no clear cut form that it takes. Sex here assumes different kinds of form as something hidden if not forbidden; it is the body that is important not the sexual act which is not directly represented. There is a strong sense of colour and form.

In one projected photograph, the model looks wistfully upwards while playing on a recorder; in another a woman lies on a plank of wood with a yellow square around her neck, a scene that implies crucifixion. Another image shows a woman assuming four heads, two of which are joined while another shows a woman lying down with a mass of fruit between her legs. All this is quite striking but may leave one with an uncomfortable feeling possibly with a sense of sexual deviancy. These are not pornographic images yet neither are they obviously erotic.

If I am honest, I do not really know what to make of this work although what Nanda van den Berg says seems appropriate …. “Viviane is not working with an idea of obvious beauty …She could be working with the most beautiful model, but she is thinking of this model not as a human beauty, but more as a texture, a volume. She makes a new form of beauty with it.

The following are photos from a video exhibit …

still from video

still from video

still from video

still from video

still from video

still from video

still from video

still from video

still from video

still from video

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