Magazine article Artforum International

Annika Von Hausswolff

Magazine article Artforum International

Annika Von Hausswolff

Article excerpt

A dead woman's body on the seashore, draped in a bright-green blanket; her bare legs and the bottoms of her feet pointing at the viewer, the rest hidden. Not far from the corpse sits a large German shepherd, a mute witness, staring at someone or something just outside the frame. One can't help wondering what he's looking at. The title supplies no answer; instead it poses another question: "Hey Buster! What do you know about desire?"

In an atmosphere of cool voyeurism, Annika yon Hausswolff's photographs play out her, and perhaps our, obsession with violence and death. The silent observer reappears in Eyewitness, 1997, a close-up of a dog's head, its eyes again intensely fixed on something just beyond the edge of the picture. But most often, it's the viewer who's invited to play the role of passive witness. Yon Hausswolff began investigating the connection between scopophilia and violent crime with "Back to Nature," 1992-93, a series of large photographic prints in which young female corpses are strewn across landscapes bucolic and otherwise. Two images from a triptych in this series have the raw, artless directness of police photographs: a female in a blue cotton dress lying on her stomach, half-buried by weeds, feet bare; a woman sprawled on the ground, her jeans pulled down to her knees - robbed, raped, murdered? The third seems very much staged, even painterly - a naked corpse floating like Ophelia among the reeds. This effect is echoed by the final image in the series, which shows a naked woman - or is it one of Hans Bellmer's dolls? - lying in a sunny patch of Scandinavian pine forest, her dead body the only blot on this otherwise pristine landscape. Yet despite their brutal subjects, these images exude a strangely tender lyricism, an almost Romantic vision of nature.

In fact it is von Hausswolff's unexpected combination of traditional Nordic landscape painting and scene-of-the-crime photography that first won her critical attention. Beneath the tabloid-ready appeal of these works lies a bemused, ironic take on the traditional depiction of women in art: bathers, nymphs, reclining or frolicking in the countryside. In her work, von Hausswolff not only strips the bride bare, but deprives her of anything but bodily presence, forcing Woman back to nature in the most savage fashion.

As with the work of Bellmer and Duchamp, the eroticism of looking is closely linked to the female body. Certainly sadism and voyeurism are no strangers to von Hausswolff's work. Her photographs may expose the inner workings of the much maligned male gaze, but a good part of their attraction derives from her willingness to acknowledge that the sight of naked flesh, even, or especially, after it has met a violent end, can be oddly riveting. How, then, to sum up "Back to Nature's" sociopolitical credo? Certainly, earlier works of yon Hausswolff's mount a more explicit feminist critique. The series "A Study in Politics," 1993, oval close-ups of bruised female body parts, takes a hard-nosed look at domestic violence and the plight of battered women. …

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