Galerie Raum mit Licht



Jemima Stehli - She looked back

In the classical sense, photography was used as an objective medium through which, similarly  to the Camera obscura from the 16th – 18th century – the world could be conclusively and objectively viewed. The process of looking through this apparatus coincides with a conclusive subjectivity, a subject that is removed from the world and its representations. Since the so called ‘crisis of the subject’ in postmodernism, we know that a stable subject position can no longer be maintained. Why not? The subject divides, becomes absent and through the manifold rise of visual media since the 19th C, the body of the viewer has become a surface for inscriptions. This also impacts photography, in the sense that through the growth of new visual media, it has lost its status of being the sole sign of indexial reality. In Lacan’s Mirror Phase the subject in front of the mirror identifies itself with the form of its reflection, the image of the other. The duplication of the self in the mirror therefore plays an important role in the constitution of the subject, blurring the boundaries between the subject – and object position. Photography as a medium of representation, is often credited with this function of the mirror. From the site of the image assumed by the photograph, the viewer can perceive him/herself.

In the exhibition She looked back, Jemima Stehli questions the structures and mechanisms of photography. This time, photography is questioned as a tool and as a medium. In Stehli’s works, photography is hence both a material and a message. The artist takes on alternating positions, behind and in front of the camera. Her works therefore propose a possible subjectivity, that develops through the image and gazes out from the image.

“In Stehli’s earlier works, based on the sculptures of Allen Jones Table and Chair (1997/1998) and After Helmut Newtons Here They Come (1999) she adopts the role of a naked object in the works of these artists.” (Quote from the exhibition’s information text) Shown in the first Room, are larger than life scale Photographs of Makoto (4 Photographs), and Lucie (2 Photographs) that reflect an intimate relationship between Model and Artist. These Photographs show  “the naked and extremely intimate involvement with the subject in the moment of capturing the photo” (Quote from the exhibition’s information text) At the same time, though, something happens: in the process of consolidating the image, the captured subject becomes the object of the gaze. The subject / the actors in the image materialise. Thus, the process of photographing begins with the awareness of the photographer or respectively, the viewer themselves being the subject of the photograph. Through the dialogue brought about by the protagonist’s gaze, the photographs however, assume a documentative character, resulting from the performative act of the subject. According to the philosopher Judith Butler, the subject assumes its identity through the repetition of performative acts. In this case, as seen by four photographs of the same person, Jemima Stehli’s focus lies in the repetition of a formal structure: the face seen through the lens of the camera (see exhibition’s information text). Each portrait was created under the same conditions: daylight entering from the right. In the repetition of the sequence of images, the distance between the camera and subject is altered slightly. Through these fine differences, formality and character are determined. In these works by Jemima Stehli, subjectivity penetrates the formality of pictorial language.

To my left (at the edge), 2008:
The artist introduces her naked self at the edge of the picture. Her bare body is adjusted through the negative (see exhibition’s information text). Mental and physical boundaries are thus demonstrated in the picture and the works thereby suggest the picture’s formal composition. (All photographs shown in the gallery, were enlarged by Jemima Stehli herself using a silver gelatine printing process.) The remote shutter release as featured, plays an important part in examining the identity of the artist: where is the subject located? –within the image; at the end of the remote shutter release or respectively behind the camera? On the opposite side of the room, a larger than life portrait is seen of Gaza, the second member next to Makoto in the band If Lucy Fell.

In the series: Fall 1, Fall 2, Fall 3:

In these self-portraits the studio becomes visible through a mirror.  The self of the artist is herby readjusted in performative gestures. The body of the artist becomes the medium for artistic language and practise. The studio as a space for production, the expression of ambitions and desires. The studio reflected in the mirror, therefore becomes the space of narcissistic projection. The body of the artist in motion is proof of the material reality of the artist, forming shapes and yet simultaneously beginning to unfold. In the works Tit box 1, Tit box 2  Jemima Stehli questions her sexual existence as an artist. Parts of her body such as her breast, have been inserted through an opening in a cardboard box and become sculptural elements. At the same time though, these body parts comply to a fetishisation. Jemima Stehli wants to draw attention to the fact that on the one hand it is her own subjective body that is shown here, yet on the other that by the means of feminist clichés, the feminine body is constantly reproduced in images.

The Heart Pavillion und If Lucy Fell 10/4/09:

These video works arose out of Stehli’s desire to integrate herself into the work of other artists. She encircles her subjects, from her position behind the camera - for one, the band If Lucy fell (with which she lived for a while) revolving around them on stage, and for another - Dan Graham and Kathy Battista - by a visit to one of Graham’s „Pavilions“ in the collector‘s garden. Through her active presence she assumes the role of the camera, yet sometimes still speaks to her protagonists.
Once again the question:
Who, in this video is actively looking back? Is it the actors or the artist herself? I will conclude this short tour with a quote from Roland Barthes’ ‘Die helle Kammer’ which the critic Jonathan Slyce mentioned in the following context (Slyce, 21) :

“I long for a story of the gaze. Since photography is the emergence of my self as another: an artful dissociation of the awareness of reality.” (Barthes 1989, 21) The exhibition She looked back, narrates this story.

Text: Käthe Hager von Strobele
Translation: Laura Nasmyth