Melanie Bonajo, Furniture Bondage

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2009 by Kodoji Press (here). Softcover, 52 pages, with 17 color and 8 black and white images. The book also includes a list of model’s names and a short text by the artist. (Spread shots below.)

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2009 by Kodoji Press (here). Softcover, 52 pages, with 17 color and 8 black and white images. The book also includes a list of model’s names and a short text by the artist. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: For the past several months, a vision of contemporary photography as a series of interlocked Venn diagrams has been percolating around in my head. The gist of this thinking is that to a greater and greater degree, we are seeing overlap between previously separate artistic mediums, creating intersections zones where multiple media are mixing in unexpected ways, all of which is then upended by the underlying digital revolution which affects nearly everything. While there is certainly some slower step evolution taking place inside the formal boundaries of the contemporary photography bubble (most of it driven by the ongoing absorption of digital thinking and tools), much of the most drastic artistic mutation that is twisting the medium is taking place in these nether edges, where the rules are looser and the traditions less solidified. To my eye, these radical combination areas are where much of the most creative action is taking place, and where we ought to be paying attention if we want to see where the medium is really going.

Melanie Bonajo’s Furniture Bondage series is just the kind of hybrid work I am interested in thinking more about. It brings together photography, sculpture, and performance in almost equal parts, the result being something a little of each but altogether new. Her photographs are images of staged constructions, where anonymous nude female models are tied up and otherwise bound and burdened with a dizzying array of mundane household objects. My first reaction to the works was that they were a little like the precariously balanced found object sculptures of Fischli & Weiss, but with the scaffolding of a human body added to the complex physics equation. With faces turned away or hidden by hair, the bodies become malleable objects, jammed into the space made by a desk chair, tied up with a phone cord, folded into an aluminum ladder, or bent into a wooden shelf unit. They act like center of gravity towers that hold the sculptures together, with any number of additional objects added on or perched on top. In this sense, the bodies are remarkably mute and inert, just one more limp sculptural object in a gathering of textures, colors, and jutting lines.

But if we step back and see these assemblages as performances, an entirely different reading of the works can take place. The female subjects are wrapped up and trapped by their possessions (the bondage motif), literally carrying the heavy load of their stuff. There is an innate physicality to what’s going on, a bearing of weight and a contorting of bodies. Without much imagination, these images can be easily connected to a long line of body-based performance artists, both those who explored the limits of the flesh and those who had a more direct feminist angle, the suffocating cleaning products, kitchen utensils, and laundry racks offering biting commentary on traditional gender roles.

And depending on our vantage point, we might simply characterize these works as straightforward photographic nudes, albeit with a conceptual feel. The material objects and additional items surround the sitters like a still life, a mountain of daily clutter giving context and implied narrative to the elegance of the nude form. The photographs might feel equally at home with the witty early 1970s conceptual experiments of William Wegman or Robert Cumming or at the end of a comprehensive nude retrospective, in visual dialogue with a Dada nude from Man Ray, a bondage nude from Araki, and an interrupted windowsill and coffee table nude from Friedlander.

I like the back and forth instability of this mixed media approach, the alchemy of borrowing from various aesthetic tool boxes. It allows for multiple readings of the imagery and multiple placements within different cultural and artistic frameworks, all with a freshness that only comes from deliberately coloring outside the lines. If we’re looking for the next set of photographic disruptions, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that they will come not from within, but from the external friction zones, where chaotic idea recombination like Melanie Bonajo’s is the norm.

Collector’s POV: Melanie Bonajo is represented by PPOW Gallery in New York (here), where this body of work was shown in 2009. Bonajo’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

Melanie Bonajo, Kodoji Press

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JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 black and white photographic works, framed in grey and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the ... Read on.

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