Inez van Lamsweerde

Johnen + Schöttle

After depicting naked, sexless women with sweaty hands and feet and three-year-old girls with men’s mouths, the Dutch artist Inez van Lamsweerde has turned to photographing men. At first glance, the large-format, sharp photographs of Rob, Marcel, Klaus, and Andy are less spectacular than the previous work. The men dressed in yellow polo shirts lie down in front of a neutral white background, as if they were gently falling to the ground. Their rapt expressions—eyes closed, mouths slightly open—make these men seem lascivious in a way that does not correspond to masculine role models. What is absent from this series of photos, however, is any sense of shock.

Once one has registered the more subtle discrepancies in these works, however, they prove much more disturbing than Van Lamsweerde’s earlier works. The hair is styled in a way that shows evidence of the application of curling irons and hair tints; Rob’s and Andy’s short hairstyles could be worn just as easily by women. Because Van Lamsweerde does not use the computer to alter these images (as she did in the earlier series that depicted little girls in incongruously sexy poses), the way the men are made up raises the issue of cross-dressing. The full impact of these apparently harmless photos, however, is experienced when one realizes that women’s hands have been implanted onto the body of the male figures. It is not by accident that Van Lamsweerde has altered the hands. In the tradition of male portraiture (especially of artists’ self-portraits), the hand has served as a symbol of productive creativity. The subversive potential of the photos lies precisely in their negation of masculine, goal-oriented, creative action and their emphasis on feminine passivity, which is reflected in the gentle and relaxed poses of the women’s hands. Van Lamsweerde’s subtle play with gender roles gets under your skin. The powerful muscles (emphasized by tight-fitting shirts) are counteracted by the carefully groomed hair, the lightly made-up faces, and the delicate hands; the lines between the feminine and the masculine become blurred. Equally ambiguous is the title of this series, “The Forest,” 1995, which evokes both a serene and secure realm, as well as a place of uncanny danger.

Self-taught, Van Lamsweerde has for a long time belonged more to the world of fashion than to the world of art. But in contrast to the fashion and lifestyle photos of Ellen von Unwerth or Wolfgang Tillmans, Van Lamsweerde’s works are ice-cold, capturing the spirit of our alienated era. They raise questions about genetic manipulation, the possibility of a new, neutrally gendered race, and about the power that the ability to manipulate images confers.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by Franz Peter Hugdahl.