Tuesday, March 18, 2008

interview • melanie bonajo

i heart photograph: i'd like to talk to you about "furniture bondage." the image is really striking both because the things attached to the woman almost cover her up and remove her from the image, yet they're held together by her presence. it makes me think a little bit of the work of haim steinbach. could you talk a little bit about ideas of consumerism and ownership in relation to the image?

melanie bonajo: the series is from the project "are all clichés true ?" when i was a child, i was very restless and never wanted to sleep. to have a little rest my parents would tie me to the bed, but i was able to escape running around with a mattress and half the bed tied to me. i would also run away in shopping malls, so they kept me on a leash until i was 6. this used to be a trend back in the seventies they told me. as an adult my life goal is all about preserving my stuff, bringing it from a to b and back again and dropping some of the things in c in between. if i look at the objects maintaining my life as a condensation of material energy, i often wonder how long i could live free and happy from the gain i get out of that pure energy. i wish i was a person like my grandfather who only owns what he needs and he uses it. nothing ever gets lost. everything is always in the place where it should be and has been for the last 50 years. he never wastes anything. i don't actually own so much stuff, but often i dream of burning everything i have.

i.h.p.: bondage is a loaded word and suggests photographers such as mapplethorpe, but the image doesn't present itself as very sexualized. what was the idea behind the use—in the image and the title—of bondage?

m.b.: the furniture bondage series speaks of the impossible need to create a perfect harmony with the world around us by exploring seemingly opposing elements together: a choreography of magnetic fields lingering between attachment/detachment, bonded/liberated, subject/object. the modern female is so rarely depicted without a realm of nostalgia. consciously, she is taught to master her social identity as an imago, that part of her belonging to the public domain. the imago is defined by stuff. the material aspects of life control our free-spirit. objects own the life instead of a life owning the objects. this series tries to triumph over consequences of imperfections, presenting women as unglamorous. the figure embodies worrying about the nature of its existence, like a modern shaman who lost her power by thinking through things and is now trying to reclaim her hidden female powers. the banality of daily culture becomes mysterious, while mystery fades to banality. capturing the brief life of this moment, the sculpture, performance, and photograph are equally presented. photography is not intended to gain the upper hand, but as a way of sculpting mental life. orchestrations of real life and real time events seem like an antidote, a remedy to save what otherwise gets lost in the speed of modern life: attention to the slow pace of the ordinary and extraordinary transformations of the commonplace.

i.h.p.: i'm wondering if you could talk about how the figure is posed—nearly nude, and turned away from the camera?

m.b.: the nudeness addresses the vulnerability of the human when taken away the imago, that part of the identity that belongs to the public domain. the head is turned away because the figure is not about the individual portrayed on the picture, it is an archetype, it should
be viewed as such. this aspect is emphasized by its anonymity.

i.h.p.: the fact that the woman almost seems equivalent to the things tied to her is also very loaded with feminist meaning, as you’ve discussed.

m.b.: it is absolutely not the women who is equivalent to the things, is the equivalence of the thing and the concept of the body (and although women’s bodies are more objectified than mens i cant really tell how far this correlation with the material aspect of life and the identification with the body is for man, because i am a woman).

i don’t see this work as a feminist piece of art at all. it is way more personal and at the same time related more to the abstract level of the soul-consciousness of man which illuminates matter, instead of from a gender point of view, looking at it from this perspective would always be interpreted as opposing to men and that is not what it is about. i believe in equal rights, social, political, and economical, but i don’t believe in equal roles, i think men and women have both very specific qualities that are not gender crossable and therefore man and women function better in gender related places within society although i do think exceptions make the rules and that every individual should have the freedom to choose what ever they function in best.

i.h.p.: one more question: as you mentioned, the photo functions as the document of a performance, but the woman portrayed seems passive rather than active.

m.b.: i don’t understand the connection you make between passive and performance, does it mean to you that a performance should be active? i see the women more as a one minute performance, the reason why i don't consider it a photographic work in the traditional sense is that composition and light don’t really matter.

[photo: furniture bondage by melanie bonajo. from the series are all clichés true? 2007. see more of melanie's work here.]
interview is a weekly column by nicholas grider that appears each tuesday on i heart photograph.