Figure Studies: Elke Desutter: The Body as Present
This week in Lenscratch, we look at the work of seven artists, exploring the many iterations of the body in photography.
Elke Desutter uses video, installation, and collage to make the familiar unrecognizable. By combining body parts in surprising and unpredictable ways, Desutter distills the body to its purest form: nude and complete with imperfections. Sometimes images of flesh are draped, cut, or reconstructed into monumental sculptures, while other smaller-scale works fold the body into unanticipated vignettes. The somatic becomes an object, a sexless object reduced to shapes and mass. The body parts are merely a shape or form for me to manipulate within my artwork, moving away from a consciously sensual or sexual approach towards the body. I use skin tones, limbs, shapes, contours, and imperfections as a foundation to challenge a viewer’s perspective of the body.
Desutter creates her visual language by photographing the models herself then carefully selecting the images she will incorporate into artworks. Subjects “donate” a part of their body to be photographed for her archive; it is through this collaborative act of giving that Desutter creates the universal ‘Body of Bodies’, a body that represents everybody and nobody at the same time.
Creating your own visual language by means of images, manipulating and controlling the matter completely, fascinates me while creating a new piece of art. My starting point is a fascination with the human body and how we relate to that body. I take the body out of its context and it becomes something new by using media such as video, photocollage and installation, I explore the body in all it’s forms. The body is literally objectified, but not as an object of lust.
Body parts are reduced to objects and shapes that are combined to make up a larger mass of bodies. Ultimately we are all flesh and blood. The body is often sexualized. Everybody undergoes multiple changes in their body. From child to young adult to adult and to senior. Lots of those changes make us dwell more on the body and its needs and desires. Although this lust and desire is often a topic when the naked body is used or presented. It is not what drives my work. I want to remove the sexualisation completely and disconnect the body from its known shape and form. The body is too often sexualized. This continued sexualisation of the body over powers our view point and takes away our ability to see the body purely as a body and a form.
I strive to reinvent the body and challenge this view point. Pulling the overly sexual gaze away from the viewer. I want to separate (figuratively speaking) the body parts from the body and the individuals that we know. The body parts are merely a shape or form for me to manipulate within my artwork, moving away from a consciously sensual or sexual approach towards the body. I use skintones, limbs, shapes, contours and imperfections as a foundation to challenge a viewers perspective of the body.
Within my work I do not make a distinction between gender, ethnicity, age and so on. Everyone is brought together in one ‘Body of Bodies’. We see the body in its purest form, nude and with all its imperfections. Shown as it is but out of its context
As a spectator we tend to look for recognition. We always want to understand what we are looking at. For example if skin color is spotted in a work we want to know which part of the body we are presented with. This is something I try to incorporate in my art. This constant need to search for recognition. I make the familiar unrecognizable. This way I create pareidolia. What you think you see or recognize are not actually there. We seek recognition quickly and look for familiarity, born from our primal instincts that make us able to see quickly if someone is friend or foe, smiling or looking to attack. That urge and instinct to read a situation quickly leads the spectator or rather misleads the spectator.
I aquire my footage through ‘Open calls’. Models can register with me to anonymously submit a part of their body in front of my camera. The models donated body parts determine how my work will look. Some models choose to share a lot of their body, others share scars and stories. It often happens that models share body parts that they would otherwise not show, mentally ‘giving’ them away to me to work with and create something new. The body represents EVERYBODY and NOBODY, becoming one within my work.
Elke Desutter (1987, Be) – is a visual artist living and working in Bruges, Belgium. Elke obtained her Master’s degree at the KASK/School of arts Ghent in 2011, after which she won the Provincial Prize for Visual Arts of West Flanders. In recent years she helped realize and curate projects such as ‘Bokashi be’, ‘Inside/out’ and ‘Passie & Obsessie’. Individual projects such as ‘Donate Yourself’ and ‘the Book of Bruises’ start from an archive of images that she herself will document through open calls. Themes such as objectification, censorship, pareidolias and the body itself occur throughout Elke’s work. Her practice explores the literal objectification of the body through photo and video collages, installations and assemblages.
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