|Archival digital prints on fine art paper, 2007-8
I have been working with the body as a gendered and sexualized entity since the beginning of my oeuvre with particular interest in the breaking apart of the closely guarded categories of male/female and, what and who might constitute masculinity or femininity. My protagonists are often women, transgendered or transsexual people who have been marginalized in the historical narrative but push forward in unlikely directions in the performative scenarios I set up.
Long influenced by the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1899), I first developed the performance-photo series Encounter(s) (2006) as a starting point to look at hysteria, urban loneliness and physical contact or lack of touch. When I was an artist-in-residence in Paris in 2007, I came across the book Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpétrière by French philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman. I was immediately taken in by the complex intersection of the invention of photography and it’s use in the colonial enterprise from the mid 19th century as very well analysed by Malek Alloula in The Colonial Harem for instance; the performative nature of these archival photographs - in the nexus between the model/patient, doctor, photographer and the post-renaissance assertion of science trying to establish itself as a credible authority. The archival photographs seem so implausible, even humorous at first, but soon reveal their dark side of a painful history.
Working along with Paris based dancer and choreographer Marion Perrin who also appears in some of these photographs, I began to develop this series of auto-portraits presented here by recreating some of images from the archive. They are probing as they displace the subject, physician and photographer with the artist playing all these roles. It was very hard to embody these images and history. As I researched further, I realised that a lot of these images were taken just after shock treatment was given to the patient in her mouth or the sub-orbital nerves were singed in the case of the photophobic hysteric.
As an aside, here is my favourite anecdote, which encapsulates this photo series: "One of the patients was suspected of stealing some photographs from the hospital, but she indignantly denied the charge. One morning [Mr.] Richer found the suspected thief with her hand in the drawer containing the photographs, having already concealed some of them in her pocket. [Mr.] Richer approached her. She did not move; she was fixed-she was transformed into a statue, so to speak. The blows on the gong made in the adjoining ward had rendered her cataleptic at the very moment when, away from the observation of all, she committed the theft."