“I am a creature of consumerism. And I consume this kind of image myself; I would not be able to work with them if I wasn´t”
Recontruccion by Rosana Simonassi on Chaco Books is on one hand an incredibly interesting book and on the other, a book with which I find some difficulty with the content, or rather its distribution. Focussed on historical murders of women throughout the Twentieth Century, Simonasi occupies the original historic image with her own contemporary body in an attempt to recreate and legitimize her position of authorship over an image that is forcibly repeated through the media. She connects the aspect of the female body, the media distribution and the violence enacted on the it from a seemingly feminist stance. Though I disagree with the engendering of murder and also with imagining of one’s own body on an abused corpse, but also that murder is something that when displayed in a gallery or a museum is any different than a newspaper.
I am also somewhat at odds of what it means to replace one’s own body atop that of a corpse. For me, it shows a necrophiliac tendency to copulate and exchange with the image of death and a specific victim. The pathology of replacing the corpse with one’s own body is an intimate gesture of image empathy that, in this context bears further remark. It could be perceived that Simonassi is also victimizing or making light of the victim by appropropriating the image of their death for the production of art, which as she remarks is to be potentially sold to clients. So, the hyperbole about wishing to dismantle how the media looks at the dead female body is the cause of some amount of further conversation as to why its potential distribution or legitimacy in a museum or collectors home is any different than the original act of killing/taking someone’s image and its distribution via media to sell newspapers. These are questions that I think are fair when assessing this work and though I am not trying to be overly moral or ethical in this. They are simply questions that I feel are unanswered or conflated within the work, though I applaud the ability to work with such difficult material at the potential risk of my assesment or somebody else’s, such as perhaps the family of the victim. All of this being said, I do want to say that the intent of the book is interesting. I think the method in which it is published is quite incredible. The way it is veiled and the way it asks the viewer to be complicit in looking at the image in the book is a trick I have seen before, notably with Melinda Gibson’s “Miss Titus Becomes a Regular Army MAC”, but is done well by the Publisher and designer. The employment of the “veil” is used cleverly by CHACO and Simonassi and promotes the idea it wishes to discuss. As with most books published by Chaco, It is a work of extrémeme political behaviour and has a feel of the DIY about it. It is the sort of photography book I would buy because I am interested not only in the publisher, but also by the content of victimization and photography, no matter if I disagree with its distribution. In a small way, disagreeing with it de-legitimizes my own personal interests in talking about difficult material and its aims. For this, the book is successful to me. It challenges my own thoughts on the use of this kind of material and whether I find it questionable or not, does not necessarily mean that I think it is wrong. It speaks about a difficult subject and the position of the autor is one of intended grace and seriousness. That it is a difficult book makes the discussion worthwhile no matter my positon on its distribution.
“The plastic disposition of the corpse in the original image, devastating as it is, it interested me. The entire horror of the scene is there, even when there is not a single drop of blood or any other trace of the violence inflicted upon that body”
BF: You have chosen to place yourself within the context of horrific crimes done to women. Most of the images depict a murder and sometimes a horrendous mutilation of the human body such as the case of Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia). Did you choose the female body because it worked for you personally as a woman or are you trying to draw attention to an engendered element to this project i.e. why women?
RS: The female body belongs to me by extension, because I carry one. In using it for artistic purposes, I make a twofold political statement: Pointing, on one hand, towards the violence imposed upon a body -always female in these cases- as well as towards what happens when a corpse is portrayed and distributed as merchandise by the media. And recovering, on the other, the attractive-repulsive feelings we get before the image af a woman´s body at the same time naked, tossed and torn.
I involve myself personally with each of the women and each of the cases photographed, as a means of creating a collective identity. It is that reason too that I embody all the victims, instead of resorting -for instance- to actresses with a closer resemblance to the originals portrayed. The matter thus no longer becames who it is that I am portraying, but rather how to show the machinery of the dead body photographed, exposed and cast into the public domain, with the different consequences that entails.
BF: In titling the book “Reconstruccion”, the viewer is left with the idea of the pathological, the crime scene, the forensic. The word reconstruction is often used to help illustrate the idea of a horrific crime. This is something we often take for granted, the play acting of extreme circumstance which is “redrawn” for the benefit of an audience sometimes outside of the core team of investigators. Artaud has pointed towards the act of inclusion of an audience in terrible situations where theatre and cruel intention in life blurs to become the “Theatre of Cruelty”. When you reconstruct a crime of this nature, does it become a paradox of the original situation, a hoax, or possibly a disrespect that you use the very real deaths of women to navigate your art practice? Or does drawing attention to their deaths again somehow keep their demise in the thoughts of others, possibly pardoning you from the difficult situation of exploitation?
RS: RECONSTRUCCIÓN is a byword in law enforcement jargon. Facts are reconstructed in order to retrieve valuable information that could have been overlooked at the actual crime scene. And my choice of this title has to do with my intention to reconstruct not only the position of the corpse, its location and surroundings, but also the miserable and sordid publication of the original image. When you allude to an audience sometimes outside of the core team of investigators, I can´t help but reflect on how many these publications and these kind of images form a part of our daily lives as spectators, and on which degree we tacitly agree with the meaning they build, which is also an important part of my work.
Finally, cruelty -from my point of view- does not pertain to the show I stage, but rather the original situations and the detachment with which this kind of images has been taken, published and distributed. All my intervention ever does is to bring spectators before a work that exposes such procedures, adding a little consciousness to workings that are usually overlooked.
BF: Which was your favorite image to work with and why?
RS: CHIKATILO BODY, definitely. It was the only work in which I decided to include the name of the killer besides the name of the victim and the time and place of the original scene. She was just one of the 56 murders admitted by Andréi Chikatilo.
The plastic disposition of the corpse in the original image, devastating as it is, interested me. The entire horror of the scene is there, even when there is not a single drop of blood or any other trace of the violence inflicted upon that body. In the original photograph these uncanny and beautiful elements came together before my eyes in a very unnerving way. Behind the mute beauty in those hideous situations, I found an underlying agglomeration of violence which in turn decided how I would eventually print and exhibit the whole series.
BF: In obscuring the images within the book, I believe you are employing a device that creates distance from the image of death and the viewer. You force the viewer into looking underneath the surface to see the image of the women’s death. I have to admit, I knew the game before I played and have still not looked under those pages and I will tell you why….I did not want to be forced by the artist (like the media) to look underneath. It was my contention that I could draw these images in my mind having known of their existence for a long period of time given my own interest in victimization and photography. So, in saying that, I am going to perhaps respond to this device by saying that YOU as the artist are forcing me to look at horror in a certain way. Is this because you are playing mimic to the media? Or is it because you thought the device would be used naturally by most viewers to look underneath? Was it your intent to lead the viewer to the image or your intent to point out their complicity in looking at images of this nature?
RS: Before they were part of a book, the images in the RECONSTRUCCIÓN series were produced with a certain degree of obstruction. They were copies of my body, on a 1:1 ratio, printed on cheap, thin, billboard paper. The photos were copied on the back of those papers with so much ink that the excess would bleed across to the front of the sheets, somehow emulating a sordid publication on a tabloid and creating a veil before the printed image. The resulting billboards were usually simply taped to the walls of the exhibition places.
Verónica Fieiras / CHACO, after a long collaboration, re-interpreted the approach to my work. Viewers can no-longer face the image composition in its entirety. Folds and layers hide the bodies, which never occupy a full page. Underlining this frustration was a very important part of our work together. She proposed two gidelines in taking the woork to a book format: One was to highlight the morbid tension that makes us both willing and unable to watch. And the other was to introduce an additional veiling layer -dirt included- forcing the viewer to assume his or her thirst for the actual images of corpses. In a way her curatorial care guarded and protected my women from the violence of media-like coverage.
BF: In placing yourself within these images, one could surmise that you have necrophiliac tendencies when it comes to images. It is past the stage of simple morbidity. You are interacting with the corpse, or the image of the corpse in a very particular way. You are manipulating its image and joining yours to it. Symbolically, we are speaking of necrophilia in image worship. Can you defend or explain your position on the abuse of corpses via images?
RS: Well, no. Necrophilia is not my thing. At least not in the sense that I lust for corpses. Nor do I get a kick out of lifeless, mutilated or decaying bodies. Id admit to a thrill in embodying them, though. There is a bit of an intimate tension there that led me to explore that deadly edge.
All in all, I just use my body as a way of speaking about the callous way in which these pictures were taken and published, and about how carelessly we consume them and forget them. I don´t pretend I am not a part of such consumerism. When I embody those corpses, there and then, I try to assume in fact my part of the responsability for the manipulation they have been subjected to.
BF: Do you intend to make an exhibition of this work or, do you have prints for sale?
RS: Yes, I have exhibited this work in various countries, museums galleries and art fairs. The Images are for sale, and have been acquired by different collectors. I am a creature of consumerism. And I consume this kind of image myself; I would not be able to work with them if I didn´t.
I do not intent to change the way things are. But I do attempt to pinpoint aspects of how things work. Workings we are all involved in, as a society. Since it´s very beginning, back in 2012, this whole work has been ascribed to a general critique about photography material as such, and about the way in which we relate to images. In the last exhibition of this works –a solo show al the Buenos Aires Museum for Contemporary Art, in 2016- the matter went even beyond that, and into our endless attempts as cultural beings at talking about death, without much success. Ages of culture trying to account for the impossible. The show was called EL FIN DE LA APARIENCIA. An end to appearance, facing us with the unavoidability of a body that will no longer enjoy, feel or express itself. Veiled images. Displayed that last time in a away that prevented full physical and visual access for a viewer that knew that even such access would still leave the issue unsolved.
(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Rosana Simonassi.)