To tell the story, we begin with “Runner”, a fractured woman, her head severed and face distorted, who flees across the gallery towards prehistoric caves.
She is a composite made of cut-offs from different photographic stagings, like those found in sports magazines, fashion imagery, pornographic sets, but also visual instructions for handicrafts. A few years back, Eva Stenram was commissioned by Numéro magazine to shoot a feature with Chanel clothes. The model, like all the personae she creates, was constructed from the face and limbs of easily ten different women.
For DELIRIUM, Stenram returns to this avatar and recalibrates its static, eroticised arms and legs into those of a female sprinter who appears to be running off track, literally out of the frame of the photograph. Her face combines determined emancipation with the frantic expression of witnessing domestic and corporeal disorder. For Stenram, the trope of the cut-up is a meta-commentary on collage but also on the need to work through the biases and directives targeted at women in mid 20thcentury commercial publishing. This is the suffocating iconology of home life, which can be read in the patchwork bedspread, the patchwork dress, and the patched together person. Our runner is escaping the conjugal bedroom, hurrying toward the caves, while the transfixed eyes of porn actresses look out at the action.
“As with a lot of my work,” she says, “it’s about creating a dynamic or relationship between looking, being looked at, and who is looking at whom,” she says. “Initially I wanted the eyes to appear like those of wild creatures, peering out of the dark. Then I thought they would be stronger if they were camouflaged into the structure of the grottos. You don’t see them at first and then they multiply, and the looking process begins. Your gaze conjoins the multitude of eyes in the picture.”
The sequence, “Cave I-III”, began with the purchase of a second-hand book from the 1970s containing images of Germany’s natural wonders. Stenram connects these outlandish stone-age formations to Plato’s cave, and the agency of photography to dupe vision and conjure up the fabulatory. For New Viewings, Cave II hangs from the gallery wall like a vast magical tapestry. We walk into the underworld through this virtual portal. In the pitch dark of the cave, we see mineral formations that have dripped down through centuries until fluids congeal. Between nature’s limbs are human eyes, barely perceptible yet shining out from cracks in the rock. There is a smell of decay, like leaves of paper rotting or mildew on leather stored in cellars over time. Petrified flesh seeps out of the gallery roof, human organs are grafted onto nature, and arms burst out of tree trunks. Stenram explains, “The arms punch the sky, as if in a joyous mood of defiance. They’re really cheering you on! But they also appear stuck, like stumps. I am interested in the uncertainty of growth and the death angle of the photographic. I also like the fact that the scene is humorous. It reminds me of Claude Cahun’s “Je tends le bras” from 1932 in which you see two arms extending out from a hollow cavity of stone.”
Eva Stenram’s virtual exhibition invites us into a psychological and environmental set. There is one actor, and there is you, finding your trail through the labyrinth, in this inner land of lingams, located on the threshold of animist transformation.
Eva Stenram studied in London at the Slade School of Art and Royal College of Art. She recently exhibited in Die Biennale für Aktuelle Fotografie, Germany, The Riga Photography Biennale, as part of the internationally touring exhibition A Handful of Dust, and at the Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles. Her work isin the collections of the Victoria and Albert MuseumandTate GalleryLondon,and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. She was selected as one of the 100 Heroines of contemporary global photography by The Royal Photographic Society (GB, 2019), firstprize winner of The Cord Prize for Photography (GB), finalist of the Aperture Portfolio Prize (US) and the Hyères International Photography Competition (FR) in 2013, finalist of Le Prix Découverte des Rencontres d’Arles (FR) in 2012, first prize winner of The Royal College of Art Photography Alumni Award (GB) and The Man Group Photography Prize in 2007,and first prize winner of The Photographers’ Gallery Graduate Award (GB) in 2003. Originally from Sweden, she currently lives and works in Berlin.