Tag Archives: photography

Juxtapositions and Absences (Pinboard #1)

Sarah Charlesworth, Figures (from Objects of Desire I), 1982-83, Cibachrome with lacquered wood frame

Sarah Charlesworth (b. 1947) is a New York-based conceptual artist. She is frequently referred to as a photographer, but she claims that “I don’t think of myself as a photographer. I’ve engaged questions regarding photography’s role in culture…but it is an engagement with a problem rather than a medium.” [1] Her work frequently isolates, highlights, and explores subordinated messages and themes in popular culture, media, and art. Often, these messages and themes are related to feminine experience.

Charlesworth’s Figures (1983-1984), from her series Objects of Desire, is a photographic diptych. In the left panel, a dramatic silver dress is suspended against a black background. The figure’s truncated appearance, reminiscent of a fragment of classical sculpture, provokes the viewer’s imagination. The garment appears to be supported by a human body – the curves of breasts, hips, a navel, and a poised thigh are clearly visible – but the figure lacks a head, arms, and feet. On the opposite side of the diptych, a prone figure bound in silver fabric hovers against a red background. The bindings and dress fabric appear to be identical.

In Objects of Desire, Charlesworth engages questions about the roots of attraction. By appropriating and intensifying the products and strategies of advertising, Charlesworth questions the origins of desire as well as its objects. Images in the series – taken from magazines, altered, re-photographed, saturated, and blown up larger than life (here, 42” x 62”) – appear iconic due to their scale and intensity. However, the uncomfortable juxtapositions and absences employed by Charlesworth ask us to question the relationship between the desirous and the desired, suggesting that our longings may be motivated by perceived lacks, unacknowledged perversions, or deeply embedded cultural messages.

[1] Betsy Sussler, interview with Sarah Charlesworth, Bomb (Winter 1989/1990), 32-33.