Paul Kooiker, LUXAFLEX

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Dashwood Books (here). Softcover zine, 14 pages, with 20 black and white reproductions (including covers). There are no texts or essays. In an edition of 140 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Part of what makes the photo zine such a sneakily powerful format for photography is that it has an obvious rebellious streak. Usually folded and stapled and often printed using low cost methods (like a photocopier), a zine is inherently more informal than a traditional photobook, and that hand-to-hand distributed guerrilla spirit is often matched by the risk-taking nature of the content. A zine is a great place to follow a small self-contained idea, or better yet, to try out some audacious disruption.

When we think about the genre of the female nude in photography, while the clean lines and pared down abstractions of Modernism have provided the framework for some of the medium’s most iconic images of the human form, this same aesthetic instinct has also consistently deteriorated into male gaze cliche. This duality is particularly noticeable in the female nude “clothed” in the striped shadows cast by light coming through window blinds. While these kinds of compositions were originally rooted in a boldly experimental or Surrealist instinct, over the years, they have largely become the terrain of overpatterned soft core cheesiness. Images by Lucien Clergue and Fernand Fonssagrives (and many others of less notable quality) walk this knife edge, and depending on the viewer’s perspective, sensual/erotic elegance gives way to something closer to cheap ridiculous leering.

The nudes in Paul Kooiker’s zine LUXAFLEX take this “through the blinds” banality and systematically smash it to pieces. So while, yes, he does make images a seductive female nude (in black stiletto heels no less), and he does cast light through blinds (apparently the artist is partial to the Australian-made LUXAFLEX brand) onto her body, that’s about all the commonality we can find between these pictures and the ones he is so incisively deconstructing.

Alternately taking visual cues from Lee Friedlander’s brashly interrupted nudes and Hans Breder’s mirrored bodies, Kooiker has created setups that consistently tussle and wrestle with disruption. The whole project is made up of different arrangements and combinations of two sets of white metal blinds, one round mirror, one rectangular mirror, the nude subject, and a couple of studio assistants with lights on stands. With the mirrors on the floor or placed at an angle and the blinds help up by the assistants, the female nude is boxed in, trapped into tight corners where her fragmented reflection bounces around. As the blinds are pulled around her body, we can almost hear the familiar clanking, clicking, and snapping of the thin metal slats. The compositions end up juxtaposing the sensual curves of the model’s body with the hard edges and straight lines of the blinds, with the mirrors doubling and refracting those same visual elements, creating frames that are filled with chaotic overlaps, see-throughs, criss-crosses, and smashed together forms.

Kooiker’s other innovation is that he deliberately allows the presence of the studio assistants to be visible. Random arms and hands hold up blinds, the tennis shoes, jeans, and t-shirts of their clothed bodies seen on the margins. Not only do these additional bodies provide yet more compositional items for Kooiker to play with, they set up an obvious contrast with the naked model. By leaving the assistants in place, he overtly breaks down the fantasy that we have walked in on some seductive beauty caught artfully sunning herself in the dappled light. Instead, we are faced with the reality that this whole charade is an elaborate construction (or perhaps some oddball evidence from Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan). Kooiker has broken the fourth wall and opened up a conversation with the viewer about the making of the photographs.

The exciting thing is that even when we realize that the artist has upended our expectations so thoroughly, the resulting artworks are still engrossing. The compositions are complex and sophisticated, some with as many as three or four layers of spatial depth collapsed into one plane. Again and again, Kooiker gives us a genre platitude and then undercuts it. The implied eroticism of a tripled nude rear end, a torso seen through the blinds, splayed legs, doubled breasts, and high-heeled calves are all distracted by the dull work of the assistants. Their arms and bodies repeatedly break the usual spell of male seduction, making each image a hybrid of opposing reactions.

This small project is a perfect fit an intimate zine like this one. We don’t need another thirty examples to get the point Kooiker is making, and the tightly edited group provides just enough variation to show some breadth of execution. Nor do we need the trappings of expensive paper and linen binding – this project is at once illicit and experimental, so the form fits the content. LUXAFLEX is the kind of small publication that should have an underground have-you-seen-this following, as Kooiker’s nudes-through-blinds smartly unravel a genre undeniably worthy of surgical caricature.

Collector’s POV: While Paul Kooiker has had exhibitions at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York in the past, it is not clear whether a formal representation relationship exists. As such, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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