Francesca Seravalle on Paul Kooiker “HE SHE WE”

Paul Kooiker (1964) was born in Rotterdam. He studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague and at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Since 1995 he has been teaching at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. In 1996 he won the Prix de Rome and in 2009 he was awarded the A. Roland Holst Prize.

 Holland – THIS STORY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT Hidden from indiscreet eyes, in his room, in a heavenly garden or exposed (for him only) in an abandoned showground: Paul Kooiker is obsessed with female nudity. Using female bodies, Kooiker interrogates the photographic spectator. He hunts unknown women with ads in local newspapers or on the Internet. He hooks up with a model and explains his project to her. He makes an appointment with her in a domestic environment. She accepts to pose for some money. She takes her clothes off and starts to feel more comfortable. She gives him total confidence and assumes the role she has got to play. She looks like a prostitute but she is not. She is a plump woman and a professional model. He starts his process. He collects her shapes and archives them in books. She is like one of Rubens’s vo luptuous women. She is a prosperous bottom with soft legs slapped by a violent flash. She poses in front of his book cases. He plays with her magmatic forms. He keeps her identity secret and deletes any recognizable traces. He conceals her character: her face, her eyes, her mouth and nose. He doesn’t want to take a picture of her personality. He wants her character to stay anonymous and neutral. He wants to protect her identity. He doesn’t want to compromise her everyday life. He avoids any direct contact between her and us.   Paul-Kooiker-16                                        Paul Kooiker © Showground 2004   She is an anonymous, Junoesque woman, a powerful body with amputated head and limbs. She exhibits her alabaster skin, her shoulders, hips and big curving breasts. She could be meat. She has become a mysterious object in a confounding private set. She is a clay artifact. She is a blob, a breathing mass without personality. Why this crude manipulation? He is a medical/police/war photographer who uses his camera like a scalpel to peel back the archetypes of nude women. She is like an animal on a dissection table just before an operation. She is in uncomfortable and anti-erotic positions, like a scrap of flesh on the floor. She becomes the object of an anatomical study. She is a dynamic composition: a contorted body with no arm. She is a beheaded prey classified by an anonymous number and sorted serially by position or body part. She is a naked hippie, a young naturalist running in the woods. She is a rabbit to be caught. She is a classical woman reading a book. She is an experiment of the projection of the man. She is a freak. He avoids equilibrium and puts her in unbalanced postures. He depicts her both straight and contorted. He studies her forms from unusual angles. He masters her actions and documents a serialized history of himself. He is the subject, the director that imparts immediacy and disorder to his photos. He wants to disturb us. Paul Kooiker 13                                               Paul Kooiker © Heaven 2012    We are viewers confused about what is happening. Who is the voyeur: is it him or us? Why do we feel attracted? What do we really see? What is real? He is not a voyeur. He plays with the voyeuristic and fetishistic tradition, and with mens’ standard erotic dreams. He avoids eroticism. He de tests any explicitly sexy and beautiful portraits of woman. He forces us to ask ourselves what are we looking at. She shows what he wants; she is the direct vehicle of his interior vision. She is a body, in spatial relationship with the surrounding. He jokes with the ambiguity of the photographic message. He plays with the sets to create and change meaning in the portraits. He works for months editing the photos. He photographs with a book project already in mind. We can explore our unseen desires. We acknowledge we can see, therefore we are voyeurs. Worse and worse: we are accomplices in this game of roles. We feel we can be observed. We feel we can be involved as spectators of crude happenings, too. We are in their room. There is no sex, no blue marks, no real violence. There is no physical contact between him and her, but the style of this short story is so tactile and so real—like an amateur snapshot—that it leaves us deceived. We believe we are watching concrete and domestic eroticism.  Francesca_Seravalle for Secret Behavior  

Francesca Seravalle is an independent writer and curator of photography from London. She has worked as a producer for exhibitions and books, supporting over 30 photographers including Bruce Gilden and Robert Frank, and has coordinated a number of projects in Magnum Photos in Paris and in Milan, as well as assisting as a producer in photography festivals in Milan and Rome.

Recently she curated the Dalston Anatomy project by Lorenzo Vitturi and his solo exhibition at Foam Museum in Amsterdam.

Last but not least, Francesca was born in Venice, Italy.

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