Scarlett Hooft Graafland – Turtle (2013)
While in Amsterdam, I ended up at Huis Marseille instead of FOAM. (If this seems improbable, let me reiterate “while in Amsterdam…”)
My mistake turned out to be fortuitous.
The entire gallery was taken up by The Rediscovery of the World, a group show featuring work from up-&-coming Dutch image makers.
Huis Marseille is a sprawling, disjointed space. Despite this, the work was arranged to ensure each of the fourteen artists had their own space & that the work flowed logically from one space the next. Intrusions of the curatorial hand were minimal and always concise. Any accompanying information set aside from the work and limited to pertinent biographic details, conceptual/process related notes only.
I love the photographic medium but I am not always enamored with ‘fine art’ photography. Not the case here. I preferred some work more than the rest (In particular: Juul Kraijer, whose work gave my goosebumps goosebumpy and made me feel all light-headed & tingly), but a facet of each of the artists work managed to resonated with me.
For example: I can’t pretend I understand Scarlett Hooft Graafland’s work. Her schtick seems to be going to exotic locals (in this case Madagascar) & using naturally occurring material to create oneric imagery. She definitely has mad chops when it comes to capturing supersaturated color color: the consistency of her blue skies is wild and the yellow in We are not your Enemies is fucking insane.
Turtle stuck out like a sore thumb next to the rest of the work, though. When everything else is about color intervention in the landscape, the appearance of what seems the photographer herself, nude and kneeling next to a muddy river with a tortoise shell on her back.
The image isn’t entirely out of character with the rest of the works in the exhibit; but it’s hardly in line with them, either. Seeing it as relating to the other work, suggested a narcissism–the Westerner who travels to foreign lands and in a well-meaning effort to present the indigenous people’s as they are, ends up co-opting a culture to which she has no right.
I am not sure my instinct was off, so much as it jumped three to five steps further than it should have. Graafland made photos of herself nude, bent over the peak of roofs in Iceland almost a decade ago. Turtle like represents a continuation of that practice.
I feel like there’s a trap here, in a way. Seeing a bare ass, there’s a tendency to see the frame through a lens of sexuality. I am pretty sure that is not what the work is about; still, there is an undeniable element of narcissism. And that complicates things further–making the question of the sexualized body inescapable for this image.
Interesting enough, this image passed across my dash maybe a week ago. Echoing Turtle’s pose it seems strangely less sexual than the above, at least to my eye. I am not sure why that is, but I think it’s probably not just me.