jan sudek animals at le bastart

Teratological beauty

I am for a while the melancholy of a fragmented figure, and in that interval the mystery is revealed, Pierre Molinier

The beauty of the monster began to be claimed by the romantic sensibility, when appeared aesthetic categories attending to emotional states rather than object qualities. Thus, the sublime and the grotesque will take the artistic experience to metaphysical grounds. In both concepts exist a conflict of internal forces between attraction and rejection, ecstasy and revulsion.

hans bellmer - la poupee - le bastart
Hans Bellmer. La poupée

Already in Ancient Greece mythology gives the monster an ambiguous connotation, being Hephaestus his paradigm, underworld freak but a master of the forge that gave to gods the attributes of their power. Even, physiological oddities were considered some kind of divine premonition. The word monster derives from monstrare, to show, like a cosmic signal.

After the Renaissance dissipated the conception of the human body as a microcosm, and misshapen, far from being divine messages, would be exhibited in freak shows or hidden in the dungeons of the non normalizable.

The teratological underworld woke from their lethargy by artists influenced by Freud’s theories about the uncanny. Hans Bellmer made his first doll of multiple legs and joints after attending a performance of Der Sandmann, the tale of Hoffmann with which Freud illustrated the irruption of the uncanny. The figure of the automaton and deformed body defy the limits of the human.

joel peter witkin - woman once a bird - le bastart
J.P. Witkin. Woman once a bird

Photographing his dummy in a variety of positions and locations, Bellmer explored the psychic chiasm of joy and displeasure felt by letting socially repressed impulses emerge.

The sublime in Kant refers to that which calls into question the integrity of the self causing fear and fascination. Eroticism also leads us to the experience of breaking the limits of individuality. The desire is made with its opposite, the horror, Bataille writes.

It is fear of emptiness of identity. Contemplating the still lifes of Joel-Peter Witkin stir within us that complex of ambivalent feelings, mixing the sublime and the sordid. Manages to seduce us with battered or rotting flesh because the compositional exquisiteness and aged patina that gives them an extemporaneous aura. His subversive readings in freak version of art history detonate collisions between cultural canons that sterilize our aesthetic criteria and the underlying psychic magma that reveals the fragility of that order.

joel peter witkin - daphne and apolo - le bastart
J.P.Witkin. Daphne and Apolo

We are installed in a disturbing indistinctness between those inhabitants of thresholds: dead meat that simulates being alive, masks that happen to be people, men who are women, cripples … It brings us back to archaic stages of consciousness while recovering a conception not dualist world.

Something ugly or grotesque can be poignant because the photographer’s attention has dignified it. The work of Jan Saudez, such as Witkin, validates this assertion Susan Sontag, sublimating the morbid flesh, excessive, outraging taboos to access to a transgressive eroticism, the only possible. The Czech photographer also plays with extreme naturalism veiled by a dream-like varnish. Because only in the dream (or the enjoyment of the nightmarish) hidden desires are manifest, the incubus awake.

jan saudek - hyperbole - le bastart
Jan Saudek. Hyperbole

The arcane beauty of Saudek photos produces an inversion of values, noting that the evil is not what is shown (senile men sucking mature breasts, relations between young and old, insatiable obeses…) but the social condemnation of erratic sexualities.

The illusion is that commercial pornography exploits public’s obsession with certain sexual signals that determine standards of conventional beauty, but what really keeps the vitality of the genre is to show the extreme, the exaggerated, the abnormal (Naief Yehya). As such, Witkin and Saudek delve into the curiosity aroused us the singular but instead of exploiting it what they do is compensate the split between body and spirit, a split caused precisely by the pornographic gaze.

jan saudek - girl I loved - le bastart
J. Saudez. The girl I loved

The abnormal was observed by Foucault as a subversive force, because is in his nature to violate the laws, biological and social. Physical abnormality has been used in its metaphorical dimension by artists that redeem Otherness, claiming it as the essence of a subject socially excluded.

marina nuñez - le bastart
Marina Nuñez

The monster has taken shape of a woman in the male imagination of all time. Marina Núñez has devoted much of his work to scold the male gaze with his army of monstruas, hysterical, jellyfish, cyborgs … disturbing, irrational receptacles and indomitable, projections fear of the unknown.

Another archetype of these fears supported by repressed desires is vagina dentata, women as castrating monster. Found in myths and legends of a lot of cultures, it met his artistic apogee between the Surrealists, interested in exploring the devouring ghosts of the unconscious.

jake and dinos chapman - le bastart
Jake and Dinos Chapman

But also this monstrosity of male libido has erected as a transgressor symbol, not only by feminist groups, as well as social revulsive by artists that as Jordi Valls and his Vagina Dentata Organ defines its sonic-performance project as vagina castrating of putrid and cretins; metaphysical allegory of violence through cosmic destruction and regeneration.

Siamese multiples with profusion of limbs or heads, obscene childs with anus instead of mouths and  penises replacing noses… Faced with the progressive homogenization of the species and the tendency to genetically pre-programmed individuals, the Chapman brothers celebrate randomness, unique and dysfunctional biological compounds.

marc quinn - allison - le bastart
Marc Quinn. Allison Lapper

In a marble serie of sculptures Marc Quinn portrays disabled persons, with which he reveals the paradox trapped in the ambiguity of aesthetic feeling: why the lost fragment in an ancient statue enhances its beauty (the exaltation of ruins) while we avoid looking at cripples when we met them on the street?

Only art allows us to look ahead to the anomalous because aesthetic experience transforms displeasure in pleasure, favoring confrontation with atavic fears, communication with our mental monsters.

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