Katrin Freisager

TO BE LIKE YOU (Projection) (all works 2000) opens with a still of the narrow black box of a stage. From a flow of rhythmically dissolving shots, images of groups of slender young women come to the fore. Against the darkly painted wooden partition of the empty set, the models' light skin, plain underwear, and white stockings are brought into relief. They move or stand in choreographically precise poses, turn toward or away from one another, crowd together or separate. At times their focal point seems to be in the middle of the group. Only occasionally does one of the women cast a glance toward the auditorium. This round dance of arms, legs, bellies, and hair only distantly resembles a fashion show—a dance or stage play even less. With her two-minute soundless loop of photographic stills recorded on a DVD and projected onto the wall, Katrin Freisager creates her own painting-related genre out of the photographic image: a group portrait that deviates from itself.

This sequence of changing images in the first space of the gallery is followed in the second by a series of printed stills taken at the same session (in New York, where Freisager has worked regularly since 1996). With the juxtaposition of different formats, one's attention constantly oscillates between attraction and distancing, presence and dispersion. A paradox arises: Freisager stages the feminine body as a surface for social projection and, simultaneously, as absolutely individual. Her models are prototypes of bodies yet are immediately freed from their ideal status by unmistakable skin details. They seem fragile but also strong because they reveal themselves as defenseless with a deliberately icy seductiveness. Their tatty underwear at first undercuts any eroticism. Viewers find themselves directly up against the bodies, extremely close to the moles and marks on the skin, seemingly familiar, only with the next image to find themselves standing far away again, facing a stage. At one point, an intimate regard even falls on the grain of the wood at the back of the stage, which itself becomes like skin in the soft shine of light.

Freisager's photographs take off with a cool play on the fashion world that ruled the Zurich art scene in the '90s. By shunning the glamorous moment, however, she evokes a fascinating charm, a lightness of being on the other side of nonchalance. The portrait series of young women on a mattress, for which Freisager became known overnight in 1995, had already achieved this ambivalence between posing and lounging, between attention-getting staging and natural body movement. The vertical and frontal views showed a surprising approach to confrontation in the image. Directing the bodies in the shot, Freisager by the same token directs the body of the image, thereby seducing us into a conversation with the body, a dialogue between eyes and skin in space. The works in “To Be Like You” have to do with that identification which grows out of the hard-to-measure distance between people in masses.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Diana Reese.