The body as the effect of language
In her works, Austrian artist Maria Hahnenkamp has been focusing since the end of the 1980s on ascriptions made by society to the female body, its cultural regulation, and the related stereotypical repertoires of roles, rituals, gestures and, above all, images of this body. She traces this regulation in recurring forms of representation of the female, formulating it as a critique of the cultural text that has always been inscribed in the bodies. In the current series Text/Ornament and Cut Out (both 2007), Hahnenkamp shows this text literally applied to the bodies. Previously, however, the artist removed the images themselves in such works as Geschmirgelte Fotoarbeiten (1991–1999), sanding off photographs down to the base layer. She thus effaces the “history” of the image, at the same time creating an emptied image space for projections. By means of this gesture, Hahnenkamp refuses image production itself, with the effaced photographs being images of a female model at the hairdresser’s, having manicure or hair care – once again, stereotypical models of the female. Consistently, the artist decided to stop taking photographs herself in the mid-1990s, thus disappearing as the author. With the aid of these works, Hahnenkamp transferred the critical conflict into the image itself. She is concerned not with counter-images, commenting critically on image policy by means of counter-images, but with making the image itself the scene of discourse. She demonstrates that images always arise in a cultural network characterised by power, exclusion and repression. She also shows that these networks inscribe themselves into the image as the images themselves are embroiled in the construction of this power as a cultural technique.
By using fragments of texts by Judith Butler, one of the most important feminist theorists of the 1990s, since the Körper-Diskurse (2005) series, she once again presents the female body as an effect of language processes, i.e. of cultural production. By superimposing the images with ornaments, a motif with which Hahnenkamp has been working after religious pattern books since the embroidered photographs of the 1990s, the artist additionally emphasises the artificiality of these image languages through the bodies. Ultimately, Hahnenkamp’s works demonstrate that an image is always more than a visual form.
Published in “Photo Art, Fotografie im 21. Jahrhundert”, ed. Uta Grosenick, Thomas Seelig, Dumont Buchverlag, Cologne, 2008
Reinhard Braun, born 1964 in Linz (AT), studied art history at the University of Graz and resides in Graz (AT). From 2007 to 2010 he was curator for visual arts at the steirischer herbst festival, Graz. Since 2011 he has been artistic director and publisher of Camera Austria, Graz. His most recent curatorial projects include: “Once Documentary: Sven Augustijnen, Eric Baudelaire, Peggy Buth, Maryam Jafri”(2014); “The Militant Image Picturing What Is Already Going On, Or The Poetics of the Militant Image” (2014); and “Disputed Landscape” (2015), all at Camera Austria, Graz.