New York

Jeanne Dunning

Kinz, Tillou + Feigen

Jeanne Dunning’s photographic career has involved an extended investigation of corporeality. Since 1987 her work has tended to cluster into two groups: those images in which the familiar is made foreign by the addition of what Rosalind Krauss has called a supplement, and those in which the amorphous is made intimate through conspicuous photographic procedures. The works in the first group apply the objective, sharp-focus model of straight photography to things like an isolated mass of impossibly lustrous, cascading hair and a woman with a nipple on her tongue. The second group of images usually employs extreme close-ups, often of vegetable matter, that invoke orifices or other sites where inside and outside cannot be clearly demarcated.

In the six photographs recently on view, Dunning has combined tendencies from her earlier work: The depicted figures display their formlessness matter-of-factly, initiating a wry commentary on the bodily and the photographic. Dunning has introduced a mass referred to as a “blob,” an oversize, liquid-filled sac reminiscent of an enormous implant. The blob attaches itself to a female host, disrupting the integrity of the body’s edges and the smooth functioning of the codes of photography. In The Blob 4 (all works 1999), a woman lies on a bed, her head and feet cropped out of the photograph and her body covered from shoulders to midthigh by the sac. Gravity forces the blob to bulge sideways onto the surface of the bed, so that the shiny fabric stretched tightly across the woman’s body gives her the look of a solarized nude. Solarization, a technique of intentionally overexposing the negative, was one of the ways in which Man Ray and other Surrealists achieved the informe, but Dunning instead shows formlessness as an absurd supplement layered over the body. The blob continues its assault on photographic and bodily correctness in On a Platter, where it swells out from under a woman’s shirt and protrudes onto a plate she holds like a saint displaying her attributes. Throughout the series the blob acts as an enormous weight, seeming to tip the images forward until they threaten to break out of the confines of their frame.

Three performative videos complement and elaborate on the corporeal themes in the photographs. In Getting Dressed, a woman tries to clothe the blob. The flowery printed skirt and chartreuse top give the blob a festive appearance, but the enormous effort of trying to contain its formlessness is evident as it appears at times ready to burst its seams (and those of the clothing). The strain of the physical is central to Dunning’s most ambitious video, Trying to See Myself. Shot with a head-mounted camera, the piece follows Dunning’s gaze as she puts on one pair of flesh-colored tights after another. As the process continues, her exertion is documented by audible groans, and the action becomes agonizingly slow. Finally, after pulling on innumerable pairs, she laboriously removes the mass of tights as a single unit. The result is a pathetic little heap on the floor in the rough outline of a lower torso. Dunning’s dissatisfaction with this mass as a stand-in for the body is evident: She picks at it with her toes, trying to pull it into a more appropriate shape.

While Dunning’s work has strong affinities with feminist aims, she has always resisted pinning its thematics to specifics like female body image, focusing instead on the more generalized and nameless difficulties of inhabiting any body at all.

Andrew Perchuk