Susanne Junker; models for a theory
a review by Sandy O'Dune
It's one of the crimes of the era, the objectification of women in the media. It's a crime so widely commited that to aim to punish the endless list of perpetrators would be recollected as 'the mass arrest of everyone in the media, practically'. Because really, the problem isn't one that can be changed by looking at the perpetrators and victims, because the line is too wiggely, too curvascious. So, what do we do? There are a range of conflicting options that all seem as logical and reasonable as the next.
One woman who is commiting the offence and has been in her work since the early 00's is Susanne Junker. German artist, model and founder of stageBACK, an art space 'from an artist for artists' and was founded by the German model in April 2008 in Shanghai, China. Susanne has been travelling to China for the last past 5 years and observed the growing urban culture in Shanghai as well as the fast-forward moving Chinese art scene. Her belief is grounded in cultural and intellectual exchange between the East and the West, which can offer new territories and outlooks for both sides. This is an interesting project but for me not as interesting as her own work; photography featuring naked girls and self portraits, faceless, crude, on their knees and mouths open. Initially, grotesque images but with sex appeal. This objectifies and degrades the subject in ways so horrific one only continues to look due to, above all, morbid curiosity. The same way we stare at photo's of dead animals from battery farms or watch embarrassing bodies on Channel 4. The photo's are dramatic and aesthetically, when not considering the subject, very beautiful. It is clear she has brilliant photographic talent. So why has an intelligent and strong woman humiliated her subjects in such ways?
For me, Susanne Junker is going full throttle at one of my many theories of battling the issue. If an image is repeated and repeated, does it start to loose effect and meaning? If we push and push the limits of how we represent the subject to the furthest point till it can go no further will it leave us looking elsewhere? Andy Warhol wanted to repeat the faces of those in pop culture till we were desensitised, disenfranchised, is this a similar theory to the one Susanne Junker is exercising? I have noted that more and more in the pop videos, on the television and all over the internet, the focus is now on women with big bootay. The question 'does she squat?' has been jollied over lad-bibles far and wide as a hippo's behind. This is a relatively new phenomenon when we think of the question (to which we hoped the answer was negative) of the naughties and nineties; 'does my bum look big in this?'. We've gone from breast implants to bum implants. It could be argued that this is due to companies, celebrity PR and magazines taking note of the fact that we are becoming disaffected by breasts, they have needed to find another 'part' to make fashionable. As sad and depressing as it is to know that a 'part' of our selves has become practically a neutral object in societal terms, at least we see said 'part' less as a means of selling and oppressing. What I think Susanne Junker is doing is baring-all in terrifyingly objectifying photos that go further in content than a Rihanna video or Vogue front cover, in order to desensitise us from every inch of the female form thus turning attention away from it and perhaps onto something different, but at least thank god it'd be different! Because personally I am bored of looking at it, media dons if you're listening I AM BORED SO CHANGE IT.
So there lies a whole frame-work for a potential solution to the mass objectification of Women. We repeat the image, pushed to the limits of objectification in humiliating ways in order to turn the eye away from ever wanting to see it again, or, just by way of disassociation and desensitisation. But of course, as mentioned before, this theory comes with counter theories and opposing arguments. I can see that it shouldn't have to come to the point where women are forced to keep repeating their bodies image until it means nothing. Could this in fact be the worse thing we could do? Maybe what we should be doing, instead of drawing attention to the female form and the oppression, is to instead divert the gaze to how brilliantly we can be using our minds. To instead encourage and demonstrate our abilities and beauty that exceeds and surpasses the ability and beauty of a lady's tiny waist.
This is just one concept I perceived from her work but there are more. Possibly one of her most noted photographs she sits on the floor on her knees looking vulnerable, in a flesh-coloured hair cap, shes thin and looking up and away from the viewer. Behind her is a poster of someone who may or may not be, but certainly resembles, Angelina Jolie. Placed all over her body are strips of paper that read 'chanel?' 'fashion?' 'plastic surgery?' 'vogue?' etcetc. It tells a sad story of females' desperation to submit and bare all at the same time as looking up to someone/something for answers, yet we are not even certain if they are even there at all. The questions we ask are futile and easy but the answers are elusive and uncertain. Here in lies the struggle.
She has been cited as claiming to try to depict herself as 'unattractively' as possible in order to challenge the image we expect to see when we look at photos of women. When asked about being a 'former model' she explains she is still a model only now she is also playing the Author of the Model. This draws on another theory, do we perhaps have those aware of the issue display themselves as on the contrary to the one track beauty we see everywhere. By creating this balance of the extremes of traditionally and untraditionally attractive will it dilute either side to the point of a comfortable average? It's maths right?
But of course here's the counter...
Another one of Junker's works is one of a beautiful woman, binded up in tape with wooden cones for arms with the sign 'The perfect woman is a lie' written across her stomach. Junker herself demonstrates this bizarre phenomenon of what I will here call; 'The Beauty Dictation'; The problem, it could be argued, is that our idea of beauty is completely dictated to us. That girls compete to have whatever they've been trained to want to compete with, and guy's are attracted to whatever they have been trained to be attracted to. Big breasts or blonde hair, they dip in and out of fashion, forever leaving someone feeling unfashionable, inferior and not beautiful. This is of course not a necessity. We forget, for what ever reason, that we are animals and we have the ability to weave beauty into whatever it is we are good at and can feel it, rather than see it. Junker herself has said 'What society calls "ugly" doesn't interest me. Ugly is only a word. But a feeling never cheats you.'. So in fact this theory of the balance could be even furthering a dictation.
Junker doesn't supply us with the correct motive or theory, in fact for me she offers multiple theories in battle with one another, all as strong and weak as the next. This is perhaps due to Junker's honest work just expressing a narrative and struggle that all she feels, actually objectifying the issue so we can analyse it and pull it apart in terms of one representation. She supplies controversy towards a subject in order to get us debating, and when in a state of the unknown, discussion and debate are our only options. For this reason I think Junkers work is brilliant, whether she has aimed to spur me off into this search for a solution to a problem with infinite theories or not, she has done it. I think there is a lot of discussion happening at this moment, but there must be more. There is no proven solution as it stands so we must use our art and writing and jobs and lives in ways that spark the discussion and seek a solution, even if sometimes at first glance it seems like a move in the opposite way. I really hope she comes back to Europe from China so I can see her work in the flesh. (mind the pun). We wait in anticipation for the launch of her website that will be found at: http://susannejunker.com/