‘Clothes shockingly photocopied, then her work on certain models for my exhibition Histoires de mode at the Decorative Arts Museum in Paris, through to the hieratic eroticism of her most recent pieces: I have a particular fondness for these autopsical images.’
Much has already been written on the relationship between death and photography, on reality and fiction, on the blurring of genres – all fundamental themes in contemporary photography and also in the work of Katerina Jebb, an English artist based in Paris. What catches the attention is the weird aesthetic conjured by her technique. Her portraits – now printed from scans, and previously from photocopies – use a method that seems to denature life and maybe even nudge it over to the other side. And on the other side, the skin is even smoother and sometimes porcelain-white in colour; forms flatten and the aura of the gaze vanishes forever – as if, precisely, the breath of life was so diminished as to be lost. The stiffness of the characters gives us no clue as to the model’s position: are they levitating, or are we in the presence of recumbent funerary statues? This stiffness, and the sumptuous dresses, also call to mind the saints carried through southern European streets during religious processions. The sacred has a part to play, too. Wavering, perhaps. Is this gaze – which isn’t one, really – eternity?
The moment the photograph was taken is no longer at issue. These are frozen images – as is any photograph, of course, but here the function is multiplied. Mummification or embalmingo. In 1890, Dr Variot, a Paris hospital physician, proposed a new method of embalmingo, ‘galvanic anthropoplasty’, based on the use of silver nitrate, a substance well known to the period’s photographers. Katerina Jebb plays a little game of convergence and of process exchange: in a dizzying mise en abîme of the medium’s basic principles, she shows us an image whose aesthetic comes close to this idea. The garment – the most beautiful garment, of course – is deposited. As if it were the last worn; as if it were for eternity. What is captured is thus no longer an instant of life, but the appearance thereof in all its splendour.
Exhibition produced with the support of Christian Lacroix (XCLX).