Tape, Rope, Water, Milk and Bondage in ‘Other Rooms’

The images present a bloodless eroticism, uncanny, simultaneously sexual and absented of desire.

 

By Owen Campbell, ASX, January 2015

Tanlines, tape, rope, water, milk, Callis shows the way things push against the body and how the body pushes back, contracts, evades. Elements like water and shade subsume the human body; rope, as it presses into the skin, displaces and excludes. Callis achieves similar effects with sun and shade, or sheets, allowing one to see the human form in terms of darkness, light or depth. Other Rooms is Aperture’s collection of Jo Ann Callis’ work from the seventies, fifty-five images from her projects Early Color and Early Black and White prefaced by a thoughtful, meandering introduction by Francine Prose. The deepest and simplest concern of Other Rooms is the push and pull between subject and environment, a photographic experiment in displacement.

The bodies of Callis’ subjects are neither brittle nor buff, but pliant and soft, healthy-looking even if they seem a bit under-animated. Her settings are nearly cleared of non-bodily signifiers and her subjects are devoid of personality, often shot in bright white light of a clinical setting. The images present a bloodless eroticism, uncanny, simultaneously sexual and absented of desire. A hand stuck in a puddle of sticky fluid, honey, on a sheet, is full of erotic connotations and connections that only exist outside the photographic frame.

 

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images from Jo Ann Callis: Other Rooms (Aperture, 2014) @ Jo Ann Callis, Courtesy Rose Gallery

 

Callis shows the way things push against the body and how the body pushes back.

 

Callis has said in interviews that she finds the descriptor “domestic”, often deployed to describe her work, to be pejorative. More than I find the claims of domesticity to be pejorative (disproportionately applied to female artists,) I find the claim inaccurate. Although her photographs are set in a home, Callis’ settings, are uncomfortable and unhomely, no more domestic than the main house in David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997). They are domestic, then, only in that they problematize lazy and benign assumptions about female environments.

In this light, it’s hard not to see light bondage as another reflection of female subjectivity. Friction between the human subject and the physical barriers of their environment is a universal phenomenon but one felt more acutely for women, as is the as is the directive that they find the constriction pleasurable. “Why would you get yourself up like that, if it didn’t, in some way, feel good?” Prose writes in the introduction. That, and why does it feel good? are the questions that linger.

 

 

 

 

Jo Ann Callis: Other Rooms
Aperture, 2014
978-1-59711-275-8

 

Owen Campbell is an an artist and writer from Wilkinsburg, PA.

FOLLOW on Twitter @OwynnKampbell and at http://artbasel.us/

 

EXPLORE ALL JO ANN CALLIS ON ASX

(All rights reserved. Text @ Owen Campbell. Images @ Jo Ann Callis, Courtesy Rose Gallery.)

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