Rosana Simonassi, Reconstrucción

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2016 by CHACO Books (here). Softcover, 18 pages, with 7 black and white and color photographs. The images are printed on food wrapping paper and Japanese bound. There are no texts or essays, aside from a list of names and dates on the final page. In an edition of 250 copes. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: There is something pleasingly contrarian about the very idea of making a photobook where the images are deliberately difficult to see. Such a plan seems to go against the fundamental grain of the entire genre, and yet, that conceptual inversion and purposeful frustration can potentially be powerful, as it forces us to look harder and perhaps to wrestle with the thought that we can never really fully grasp the full importance of what we’re being shown.

Rosana Simonassi’s thin photobook Reconstrucción takes this elusiveness as its central theme. Starting with public domain images of publicized female deaths from various decades and locations around the world, Simonassi faithfully reenacts the pictured scenes using her own naked body. We find her spread-eagled by the sidewalk, draped cross a couch, slumped near a toilet on the bathroom floor, face down on the patio, and limp in the bathtub. And given the public’s fascination with the gruesome details of murders and tragedies, especially when they involve a young, naked female, Simonassi draws us into the trap of sensational voyeurism with ease.

But the Argentinian photographer’s image-making approach goes further than straightforward reenactment, adding a series of tantalizing layers and disruptions. A largely anonymous person has been made famous by the circumstances of her death, the picture of which has become a separate cultural touchpoint in and of itself. Simonassi then inhabits the picture that made the death famous in the first place, turning it into a charged self-portrait or a Cindy Sherman-esque film still.

In the context of her book, she has then taken the resulting images and printed them on the inside of mottled, partially transparent paper. The effect is clouded and indeterminate (a bit like a surreptitious Miroslav Tichý snapshot) – it is difficult to make out exactly what is happening, unless you cheat a bit and peek inside the Japanese folded pages, and even then, the single frame stories have no context or explanation. In effect, she has prevented us from seeing them clearly, so that we have to struggle to “reconstruct” them, as if their meaning was actually drawn from some reserve of long lost memories. Even the cover itself implies a previous connection of some kind, with tape residue left to mar the title, as if we had opened the book already.

To my eye, these is a distant parallel here to Izima Kaoru’s staged portraits of models in couture fashions playing out their own violent death fantasies. They both unpack our lurid interest in the death of a young woman, and return the agency back to the central character. Simonassi then pushes her framework one step further by adding another mediation step between the viewer and the viewed, obscuring the scenes until they start to dissolve. She leaves us without obvious conclusions, about the original scenes or her own intentions in recreating them.

That elegant uncertainty makes Reconstrucción unexpectedly unresolved, its lonely mysteries lingering after its few pages have been flipped (and reflipped). By undermining our ability to piece the puzzle together, Simonassi has made her seductions all the more alluring.

Collector’s POV: While Rosana Simonassi has shown her work at various galleries, it is not entirely clear if she has any formal representation relationships in place. As such, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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