Diana Michener: Twenty-Eight Figure Studies
Twenty-eight Figure Studies
Softcover, 60 pages, 270 x 240 mm
In her latest photobook ‘Twenty-eight Figure Studies’, published by Steidl, American artist Diana Michener (b.1940) photographed stills from pornographic films. Her way of working with the pornographic material subverts the hyperreality of the medium into something more ambiguous, contemplative – and by way of decontextualization, even strangely intimate.
Michener has made a trilogy about death before, and she felt the urge to make something that concerns life this time – especially wanting to reach into the sense of ecstasy, in the moment of losing oneself. This unknown territory might be reached by way of the sexual act. Having a long-term interest in photographically documenting the ecstatic allure of the erotic and physical entanglement Michener opted for the appropriation of pornographic video material and shift it into a radical new realm.
The selected photographs in the book are presented as square format monochromes, often consisting of blurred close-ups of bodies. Blurred images can be said to occupy an in-between position in relation to time, in contrast to the temporality of the instantaneous. As the cultural analyst and literary theorist, Ernst van Alphen discusses in his book Failed Images, these blurred and pixelated photographs become “opaque screens onto which the viewer can project his/her fantasy.” The blur implies a failure to capture the movement in the initial videos while at the same time, it manages to visualize a certain temporality that is meant to be invisible. It almost appears that the bodies are out of sync with themselves…
In the publication text, Michener discloses: “I wanted to take the act of intimacy and sex into a place of ecstasy rather than pornography, but the problem is the positions of sex are very visual. I kept trying to go beyond that. I think when you lie down with a lover, you allow yourself to enter the unknown…”
The blurry and rather distorted quality of Michener’s appropriations reaches a new level of visual eroticism defined by a caressing gaze. Through the aesthetics submerged in abstraction and darkness, the artist only hints at the pre-existing explicitness of the image and she thus manages to transform the pornographic into a rather emotional and mental experience. Her imagery ignites a haptic perception. According to philosopher and scholar of new media Laura Marks, this can be defined as “the way we experience touch both on the surface of and inside our bodies [where] the eyes themselves function like organs of touch.”
Here, in this book by Michener, it becomes a feminist visual strategy that subverts the male gaze, reducing the optical control mechanism. Without installing a voyeuristic look, ‘Twenty-eight Figure Studies’ is Michener’s successful attempt to address the ecstasy of life by elevating the violent and raw act into a touching art form.
Diana Michener (b.1940, the USA) studied Arts at the Barnard College in New York in addition to New York’s New School for Social Research. Michener’s work has been exhibited internationally, including the Gallery of Photography in Ireland, MacGill Gallery in the United States alongside a larger retrospective of her work showcased at Maison Européenne Photo in France.