Can't live with them. Can't live without them. The dynamics of gender relations explored in Photo50

By Aina Pomar - Friday, January 22, 2016
Can't live with them. Can't live without them. The dynamics of gender relations explored in Photo50

The contemporary art world has addressed inequalities between genders in a varied range of ways, whether it is by organising exhibitions only with female artists (see Saatchi Gallery’s last show, Champagne Life) or by selecting artworks that focuses on themes around identity and its socio-political dimension. It is less usual, though, to place both genders together and dedicate a show to the relationship between both. This is the purpose of curator Federica Chiocchetti, founding director of the photo-literary platform Photocaptionist, when curating the 2016 Photo50’s exhibition ‘Feminine Masculine: On the Struggle and Fascination of Dealing with the Other Sex’.

Can't live with them. Can't live without them. The dynamics of gender relations explored in Photo50

The contemporary art world has addressed inequalities between genders in a varied range of ways, whether it is by organising exhibitions only with female artists (see Saatchi Gallery’s last show, Champagne Life) or by selecting artworks that focuses on themes around identity and its socio-political dimension.

It is less usual, though, to place both genders together and dedicate a show to the relationship between both. This is the purpose of curator Federica Chiocchetti, founding director of the photo-literary platform Photocaptionist, when curating the 2016 Photo50’s exhibition ‘Feminine Masculine: On the Struggle and Fascination of Dealing with the Other Sex’.

London Art Fair invites every year a guest curator to put together a show with a theme and selection of artists that represent the currency of photography. Located next to the vibrant fair’s art projects space, this year’s Photo50 digs into a timeless topic with a colourful and diverse approach, taking inspiration from Jean-Luc Godard’s film ‘Masculin Féminin’ (1966).

The exhibition is presented mainly from a female photographer perspective, narrating how women deal with their masculine companions. However, the projects are not necessarily critical and negative towards the other gender and focus on the announced “struggle and fascination” point of view. Revealing domestic stories with a global repercussion, the works are displayed within five different sections: ‘He loves me, He loves me not’; ‘Till Death Do Us Apart’; ‘Ennui and Obsession’; ‘Carrying-On without Them’ and ‘Wrap Thee with Fluctuant Winds’.

Photo50 - Ekaterina Anokhina (Russia), from the series 25 Weeks of Winter (2)

The display of the pieces has been carefully selected to enhance each of the projects, as is the case of the narrative constructed by Ekaterina Anokhina in ’25 Weeks of Winter, where she reveals glimpses of the time spent to recover from a long-distance relationship break-up. Combining black and white with colour photographs, domestic objects with outdoor shots, feminine and masculine bodies, Anokhina makes the feeling of loss palpable to the viewer.

Photo50 - Jo Broughton (UK), Egg Shell pink set, from the series Empty Porn Sets, 2010

Also with a powerful display, Jo Broughton’s series Empty Porn Sets focuses on the aftermath of performed sexual encounters. She started the series while working as a cleaner at a porn studio to pay her education at the Royal College of Art, which allowed her to analyse from a close look the roles played in the films. At the end of the day, she would photograph the “crime scene”. Although exempt of human presence, the images let the viewer understand that the pink sateen sheets, the hospital room or the ice cave set are all outcomes of male fantasies.

Photo50 - EJ Major (UK), from the participatory series Love is... 

Keeping with the cinematic theme, the work of EJ Major, adds a playful and creative approach to Bertolucci’s ‘Last Tango in Paris’. Taking the anonymity that defines the relationship between the couple in the film, Major hand-delivered 7.000 postcards to UK households, each one of them with a frame of the film on the front and the question ‘love is…’ on the back. The photographer received 451 replies that, paired with the images of Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, constitute the body of her project.

Photo50 - Mariken Wessels (NL), from the series Taking Off. Henry My Neighbor, Taking Off, 2015 - 22 x 30cm, loose-leaf print on barite paper

Photo50 - Francesca Catastini (Italy), Happy Together No.1, 2010

The most traditional and extended way of engagement, marriage, is particularly approached in the section ‘Till death do us apart’ with works by Martin Crawl Mariken Wessels and Francesca Catastini, who uses the notion of ‘assortative couple’ as a starting point in ‘Happy Together’ to criticise “the tendency of attempting to marry people of similar background”. The photographer offers a sarcastic portrait of the constructed happiness in marriages, so typically depicted by American couples in the fifties, but now transported to a satirical contemporary domestic environment.

Displayed in ‘He loves me, He loves me not’ section, Elinor Carucci’s Closer is perhaps the most intimate representation of a life shared together, constructing a private universe of family bonds shown to the public without any scent of prudishness or intention of voyeurism, but the aim of mirroring with the audience’s own experiences.

Photo50 - Laia Abril (Spain), from the series Tediousphilia, 2014 (5)

Probably the work that illustrates the best the contemporary intersection of love and network societies is Laia Abril’s Tediousphilia. Abril focuses on a generation of young couples that reunite the characteristics of being victims of an economic crisis and fearless of exposing their intimacy and identity online. Among some of them it is a common practice to have sexual intercourse in front of a webcam in exchange for some money. The video displayed at Photo50 shows the boredom of the couples before their performance, while waiting to be selected or listening to the viewer’s instructions.

A tender embrace by Swedish photographer JH Engström reigns in the last room of the exhibition on a bright fuchsia wall. The image is from his acclaimed series Trying to Dance’, a poetic and sincere diary narrated through self-portraits and snapshots of his closest people and surroundings.

It is irremediable to feel that, despite the dichotomy intrinsic in its title, the show leaves a door open for future projects to complete the balance between the feminine and masculine voice. Perhaps some members of the audience will miss the exploration of the relationship between genders when there is not a potential sexual attraction between them, as it also feels strange not to have any LGBT reference along with the two conventional genders.  Nevertheless, the fifty photographs of ‘Feminine Masculine’ create an extensive map around its main theme and succeed in bringing an actualised vision of the dramas and pleasures of the coexistence between the two genders.

Other photographers displayed in Photo50 2016 are Natasha Caruana, Discipula, Timothy Prus, Maya Rochat, Paul Schneggenburger, Francesca Seravalle and Maija Tammi.

Photo50 - Natasha Caruana (UK) - Upon the Steps, from the series At First Sight, 2014-5, Lambda fine art print

Photo50 - Dicipula (Italy, UK) - from Mannequins & Mankind

Photo50 - Paul Schneggenburger (Austria), from the series The Sleep of the Beloved

Photo50 - Maya Rochat, from the series Stinkt der Mensch, solang er lebt (at the park), 2009

Photo50 is on display at the London Art Fair from Wednesday 20th to Sunday 24th January.

Aina Pomar graduated in Sociology and Photography before completing a Master in New Media Art Curatorship. She has collaborated with Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Majorca and with CCCBLab and Fundació Foto Colectania in Barcelona. She moved to London to work at the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain, where she coordinated visual arts and exhibition projects with the aim of promoting Spanish culture and artists across the United Kingdom. She currently collaborates with various galleries and art projects in London.

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Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

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