jueves, junio 23, 2005

Carlos Barbarito. On Norbert Guthier's Kinky and Blissful

Edition Olms ag, Zurich, 2001. 160 pages.


Eros - at least according to Constantino Cocco, writing in the seventies - is the most profound means of communication and expression at the disposal of the human being. Few means of expression, though, have been the object of such degradation in the course of history. Time and again, Eros requires to be revalued, to be restored to its authentic condition, and this can be only realised, as Cocco justifiably argues, through rescuing it from its "traditional" confinement within the private sphere and transferring it into the public domain. That is to say that the erotic must be regarded as a right of every person and not as a commodity, disciplined by a rigid scale of values of vested interests, as Cocco concludes.But the problem is difficult and confronts us with a central ambiguity: under the label of 'liberation', a more or less hidden commercialization may be operating, which only confirms that against which it pretends to fight. The development of the consumer society accelerated the process, and "provocation" and "transgression" have become the object of commercial manipulation, and, as is well known, this can only lead to the triumph of the concept of "human nature as a commodity" and the concomitant withdrawal of Eros. A way of getting control over an old and deep force: man and woman do not object to denudate their bodies, but they avoid reading each other's souls, as Pasolini phrased it.Now, there is an aesthetic choice in this matter too. The same Pasolini writes about it in a text of some decades ago. 'Let us take a scene from a laboratory. A camera, a man, a woman. The director is confronted with the customary choice: what to include and what to exclude? Twenty years ago (Pasolini is talking about the fifties) the director would have included a series of passionate and outstandingly sensual acts, culminating in a long kiss. Ten years ago (now he is speaking of the sixties) the director would have "included" much more: after the first kiss, the moment would have arrived when the legs and the breast would have been denudated almost completely, culminating in second kiss, clearly preceding the coitus. Nowadays (he is speaking of the seventies) the director can "include" much more: he can include the coitus itself (even when merely feigned by the actors) and, of course, complete nudity .Every director, then, has to make a choice: what to show and what to withhold? Such choice, though, is nothing but the occupation of the space assigned by the social and political context. In the same text, Pasolini speaks of his decision to go beyond the permissible and to represent the genitals in detail. He did not find it easy to further increase - these are his words - the possibilities of the representable. That is to say: to getting the phenomenon out of the "area of the permissible" wherein the erotic is confined - or, which amounts to the same, is immobilized, domesticated and consumed - among other things in order to try to recover the physical reality derealized through consumption. Pasolini affirms that he would not have succeeded to go to the bottom of the problem of representing corporeal reality, had he not represented the corporeal moment par excellence.Thirty years have passed since. The "area of permissible" has been extended, but the erotic does not move more freely accordingly. On the contrary, the process of derealization of the body has continued relentlessly, and its effects, already perceived in the days of Pasolini, resulting from the duplicity of pretending to be sexually free while at the same time being conformist, are neurosis, dissatisfaction and unhappiness. What to say of our country, of its society, that for decades has been immersed in the culture of the consumption, while, especially during the last years, an increasing part of its population all too often does not dispose of the acceptable minimum.It seems to me that, now more than ever, the task of the artist continues to be the transformation of the body in reality, the decommercialization of its relations: our last resort, the last place where man can seek refuge before it is taken over by a mask, a pathetic shadow.Norbert Guthier (1954) is a German photographer. His book 'Kinky and Blissful' is heading in that direction. Fortunately, his work does not represent the bodies as is usual in advertising, for example, where they have always seemed flat to me, without volume, self-satisfied, banal, bodies that, after spasmodic dances, leave on the ground mere waste, empty tins and bottles, leftovers. On the contrary, with Guthier the bodies acquire corporeality, mass and weight, not as the outcome of a simulation of the artist, but as a result of his decision to release them from their one-dimensionality. Between those bodies an intricate, highly complex network of relations is established: sometimes ambiguous, sometimes based on a play of oppositions (I will come back to that later), framed in exteriors or interiors. Such connections between bodies come in an broad variety, from being protected by silk to being subject to the harshness of ropes, wood and stonesSomething that called my attention is Guthier's recurrence to oppositions. From the beginning to the end of the book, in numerous occasions: blonde-brown, rough-smooth, stony-soft, thin-obese, innocent-perverse, black-white... in photos where the bodies are entwined in visible or semi-concealed dualities, man-woman, woman-woman, woman-reptile, man-man. All this in varied scenes, in forests, before old buildings, near rocky formations, in more or less deserted spaces, empty interiors or of abandoned churches.Sometimes, a dividing line is drawn between "eroticism" and "pornography". Judging from the history of art, this dividing line is a changing one, its shifts in the course of history are influenced by the social surroundings. It is, in other words, a mere convention, rendered entirely obsolete through artists like Guthier. To him, there is no difference between depicting quasi Romantic scenes (man tied to a tree, woman sees him, embraces and unties him, man and woman who walk together hand in hand) and dark and harsh images borrowed from the sadomasochistic arsenal (breasts and penisses tied up with ropes, men and women hanging or crucified).Leafing through the book time and again, I found myself unravelling, little by little, the elements of which it is composed. I also discovered how those elements are used in different places and moments to constitute a poetics. It seems to me that Guthier's poetics could be called "a geography of the flesh and its infinite yearnings", a domain that does not exclude the dark and the secret, the polysemic, and does not hesitate to go beyond the limits of the species, touching non-human skins, cold, hard or rough.On several occasions Guthier even goes beyond the limits of photography: when he turns his bodies into sculptures that seem made of ebony, resins, or soft stones, or when he simulates the frame and the canvas of a painting. On a certain photo, the feminine body is merging with a flaking surface, so that the flesh is nearly discernable from the wall eroded through time.Sometimes, hieraticism reigns, like in Egyptian art. The figures, in front view or in profile, appear to be immobilised in time. Some have the eyes closed, as if they were submerged in a deep dream. Some are watching the spectator. Some seem surprised by some intrusion, the intrusion of someone who is watching or of someone whose presence outside the scene can only be surmised, and they respond with a certain shame or aggressiveness. Elsewhere, it is movement that predominates: the figures run and almost leave the frame, they move away or they come near.There is a succession of photos that seems exemplary of Guthier's approach. It begins on page 128 and ends on page 142. First, an adolescent, undressed, in profile, squatting, a long mane of hair almost reaching the ground. Soon, almost out of focus, the legs of a man, his penis. Next, two men, one from the back, and another frontally, who exhibits his sex. Then, the man who was seen from the back nears the penis of the other with his lips. Suddenly, he is a woman, with a face as angelical as the first, and grasps the genitals of the man with both hands. And in the following photo, she is about to lick the penis. In the next one, she takes it in the mouth, but the shot does not allow us to see what happens in detail. Then, there is a blank page and, on the following one, another woman appears frontally, performing fellatio, without any concealed or dark zone. More ahead, almost out of focus, a man holding his penis - which reminds me of a certain painting of Schiele. And, finally, a penis with the density and texture of wood, tied up in ropes. The art of Guthier, apparently, does not grant us rest, it is constantly carrying us away on the basis of the unexpected, the protean. Everything is merely apparent, subject to change, what we see is not what it is, what it is is not what we see. What is innocent, what perverse? What is permitted and what prohibited? Is there a limit, a border, a code, a law? - these are the questions the artist seems to ask himself at any moment.As I said before, with Norbert Guthier, the bodies are trying to become real. They are ghosts, appearances, shades, transparencies that, kissing, licking, penetrating and being penetrated, embracing, letting themselves tie and untie, hanging on cables and ropes, laying in the grass, the stone and the sand, are desperately trying to acquire being, measure, weight. To consist, to exist. To be matter, with weight and mass, and thus creating a place, the ultimate, for man.