Show me your moves
Looking at the recent photography series of Melanie Bosboom, one wouldn’t be surprised to find out that she spent several years making sculptural works revolving around the human figure. Through these sculptures she explores the notion of vulnerability and visibility, and of our presence or absence in the society around us. She models life size figures from plaster, clothing, shoes and human hair, yet these human like figures conjure up a sense of ambiguity. This is partially because many of the figures are headless, genderless, or their faces have been concealed by cloth, hair or a mask. Her characters are often covered with layers and layers of clothing, or hide themselves beneath coats or behind doors in an effort to conceal themselves and their identity even further. You could say that her figures want to hide from the public, make themselves invisible or slip away without anyone knowing. But the disappearance is never complete. While longing to be hidden from sight, in their pursuit of escape, her figures are very present in the exhibition space.
Bosboom masterfully brings this sculptural quality into her photographic series where she investigates identity and gender ambiguity. She creates installations in which personages can partake in a role-play. Her characters have a quality which is both masculine and feminine. This duality, combined with an unusual contextual setting, leave the viewer perplexed. In her photographs, it is always Bosboom who plays the lead role assuming multiple identities in unusual circumstances. What is the relationship between the individual and their surroundings? Should this concerted focus on photography be read as an attempt to compress her sculptural practice into a two dimensional space? Or is there more at hand?
Take for example Untitled 2005, where we see a woman standing on a mound of furniture all piled up against the wall. The protagonist, who is dressed on a long trench coat and toting a mountaineers walking stick, has climbed up over each and every piece of furniture in order to ascend to the top. And, having achieved this feat, now gazes at the over Mount Everest. Is the artist suggesting here that each and every artwork made is attempt to come to terms with your material? That in order to make progress in your work one must ‘rise above the material’ so to speak? Perhaps we should see this work as a significant step in her artistic development. With this photograph she has immortalized the moment in which she journeyed beyond the sculptural materials and elements in her studio to fully embrace the world of photography.
Bosboom continually provokes the viewer with her recent series of photographs. Making use of clichés but leaving just enough room to encourage the viewer to fill in the details …and leave them with questions. In Untitled 2008 we see her posing in a small desolate patio populated by white plastic garden furniture and a BBQ from seasons past. The main figure is camouflaged by the white clothing which blends into the surroundings and is further masked by a pair of dark oversized sunglasses and beard of glitter pearls. Yet we feel the piercing stare from behind the sunglasses making her presence in this domain known to the viewer. A similar feeling, of keeping the viewer at bay, can be felt in Untitled 2008. Only a few wisps of hair camouflage her face, yet reveal a piercing blue eye. The only thing between the viewer and the main character sitting on the floor with her legs wide open, is the stands of shining necklaces and silver and pastel colored polished beads she holds. This photograph embodies both a quality of provocation and one of vulnerability. Whether she is offering them to us, or using them for protection, we may never know for sure. Untitled 2009 is a simple yet powerful iconic image, bearing the unmistakable signature of Bosboom. What at first glace may seem to be an innocent clown figure, quickly changes to a figure full of suggestive symbolism. She playfully teases the viewer with the image by giving the protagonist a clown mask in which the nose has been manipulated into a phallic symbol and the bright read lips double her own. The torn clothing imparts the subject with a fragile and vulnerable quality while the androgynous figure underscores the ambiguity of personage further. Once again she has applied a perfect balance between strong symbolism and gentle suggestiveness as a metaphor to visualise gender ambiguity. Viewing these three photographs in conjunction with the masked figures of pregnant women, it becomes increasingly clear that Bosboom is developing a strong body of work in which she addresses the contemporary roles of women in society by playing with gender ambiguity. With these late works she revisits some of the themes that she explored in her earlier work, but has now forged a strong link with abjection and transgression. Her work is visually bold and confrontational, and yet enduring. And this is exactly why we keep coming back for more.
By Donna Wolf - Déiska