Tension in the Gesture, Artist Aura Rosenberg

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Tension in the Gesture, Artist Aura Rosenberg

In contrast with the literal surface of a painting, photographs are supposedly transparent, which exempted them from the Modernist demand for flatness. Jeff Wall addressed this too in Picture for Women, which he describes as ‘a kind of classroom lesson on the mechanisms of the erotic’. In this case he’s referencing Manet’s A Bar at the Folies Bergère. Like Manet, Wall brings the gazeand by extension desire—into play. Since Wall is shooting a mirror, the surface of the image is contiguous with the surface of the photograph. It makes the transparency of the surface tangible. A series of looks bounce back and forth between the woman he’s photographing, the photographer (Wall himself, holding a cable release), the camera and their mirror images. In the Phaidon book about Wall’s work Thierry De Duve diagrams the directions of these gazes, showing that the photographer is looking at the woman’s reflection – and that she reciprocates the camera’s gaze rather than that of the man.

Patricia: How do you reconcile the materiality of each medium in the works where you combine photography and painting? When do techniques supplement the context you are building and layering?
Aura: Painting over photographs brings touch to the image. I’m not trying to alter the “image” per se.  In fact, I try to reproduce the source photo as exactly as possible. In keeping with my general approach to mark making, I want to make as few independent decisions as possible. Even so, a subtle transformation happens along the way. As I paint over the photo it starts to look different and—more importantly—to feel different. It’s interesting to watch this change pass across the surface of the photograph as I paint.  It’s the difference between an informational image and the materiality of paint. In contrast to the specificity of painting, the information in a photo is mutable. It lies loosely on the surface.

Patricia: That idea of photographs being mutable is so counter to how people perceive photography: as proof, as "indisputable," rather than carrying a temporality of its own. Do you think it's possible to not have visual pleasure? It's one reason why I think the anti-pleasure feminists are missing the point. It just encourages repression.
Aura: Even if images seem devoid of visual pleasure, they may still have the power to disturb us and make us thoughtful. The worst thing is to become numb. Pleasure can be complicated; the things that most disturb us can carry the strongest erotic charge. Perhaps they’re being rejected for that very reason.

"I discovered that by projecting bodies from a staged photo shoot onto a bucolic landscape, I could take the theatricality out of those images and make them corporeal, but, in so doing, I found that there was a tension in the gesture, a dialectic, that later led me to title the series: The Dialectical Porn Rock.”—Aura Rosenberg  (1)


Aura Rosenberg, The Dialectical Porn Rock, 1989–1993, C­‐print, 40 x 30 inches.

Patricia: Following the Calvin Klein 'heroine chic' Kate Moss adverts in the '90s, there was another CK campaign, in which an older male was asking a youngish pubescent girl invasive questions with a dominant swagger in his voice. The male was not given a face, we heard his questions and then saw the girl's awkward reactions. The ads were compared to porn film castings at the time. Another vignette: Terry Richardson injects pornographic references into his work and it just passes for cheeky. These and more examples show how pornography is part of mainstream consciousness in subtle ways. One can walk into Saks Fifth Avenue and drop a lot of cash for a Cartier "love" bracelet that references a mechanism for SM dominant/slave play, but the moment we admit to basic pleasure…things get difficult to accept.
Aura: Curiously, when my book Headshots came out in 1996, my publisher Skuta Helgason expected it would generate more sexualized imagery of men. The book featured b&w portraits of men in ecstasy, which I meant as a counterpoint to mainstream representations that show men as always composed and in control. Shortly after my book appeared, huge Calvin Klein billboards of men in underwear went up in Times Square.

Comments [1]

Grace Moon's picture

This is a great interview and

This is a great interview and I love how she talked about coming into the art world at a time when modernism was on its way out, and her resulting projections on nature. 

they are eerie and moving.

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