Connecting the visual and the autobiographical is symptomatic for the work of Ines Kotarac, whether she is capturing portraits of people close to her, the topos of childhood or self-portraits. In her constant pursuit of herself, she constructs a narrative that turns the affectionate care towards the subject into a place of freedom, a place of reinterpretation of personal or collective history, a place of resistance towards the fixedness of identity.
The new cycle that has formed in the last four years boasts works of an intimate, self-representative character: self-portraits and nudes that project fragility, gentleness, self-eroticism and something that lurks beneath the appearance itself, beneath the skin and the presence of the body.
Since the Renaissance, the self-portrait has become a frequent theme in art and since mid-19th century, it has become present through the medium of photography. It can be performed in many ways: in the mirror; by placing the camera at a physical distance from ourselves; by holding the camera and manipulating the frame; by photographing our silhouette, our shadow, our reflection in the water – Kotarac uses all of those methods to document her own body by means of analog and digital photography. What is at the core of the medium of photography is not the author’s creating, but the author’s taking, their claiming. What sort of claiming are we dealing with when we turn the camera to ourselves?
The mirror has multiple meanings – from it being invented as a tool of self-discovery to the fact that Lacan’s mirror stage poses the constitution of the subject, that is, the adoption of gender identity. The mirror also points to the notion of narcissism (according to Alberti, Narcissus was the inventor of painting, and in a way, the inventor of the self-portrait, because he was the only one privy to his reflection in the water). The reflection in the mirror is a frequent motif for Kotarac, as well.
Some photographs show the author depicting poses characteristic of traditional patriarchal representational practices that show the female body as the object of the male gaze – “woman as spectacle, man as bearer of the look” (Laura Mulvey), while others are construed by opposite visual codes where the author plays with the plain naked body in public spaces, hidden coves or inherently intimate living spaces. Those nudes gain even more strength if we take into account the context of growing up in a very patriarchal environment and the shame that occurs while looking at a naked body, let alone while representing one’s own naked body. Some photographs show the author’s returning gaze, looking straight towards us, making us feel like the object of the work.
All those images are an externalization of the author’s numerous realities – performative statements, a game, playing with identities that bring into memory artists like Claude Cahun, Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle or Francesca Woodman.
Looking at these photographs makes me feel slightly voyeuristic; however, voyeurism is overcome here because our gaze has no power of exerting control; it has no opportunity of detachment – Kotarac allows us to look into her intimacy.
The body and the representation of the self is surely an intimate story, but also a political one, once “it becomes a place of demand for subjectivity”. The author presents herself through the photographs, instead of being presented; she assumes the role of an active agent and I perceive these photographs as an appendix to feminist statements and to the questioning of gender roles. In the words of Teresa de Lauretis, “subjectivity has a central role in the feminist politics in at least two senses. The first has to do with questioning the ways women are subdued/subjected to masculine definitions of femininity; the other is the exploration of female resistance towards the disciplinary processes, the quest for women as autonomous subjects”. By exhibiting her body, the author deconstructs the boundaries between the private and the public; the masculine and the feminine; life and art; her-self and her-many-selves.
What sometimes can appear as a mere reflection in the mirror (or mimesis), actually contains this very moment of taking a photograph, our former selves and ourselves that will become the simultaneity of all those identities; through self-portraits, the author perceives him/herself as themselves, but also as the other. Self-portrait is always an interpretation and repeated self-exploration. I watch myself taking pictures of myself while looking at myself. We are exposed to our own gaze – which is perhaps even more difficult than having someone else taking our picture, because we are forced to face ourselves. While looking through photo-albums, we recall the context, the space, the time, the moments, the people that were around us, the people we thought of – we relate emotions, like reading a journal, “we seek to give form to experience and structure to memories” (Brian Roberts).
I am that I am.
Repetition is inherent to the self-portrait. It arrests time and all those self-portraits help us construct the autobiographical narrative (and sense) – it is always somewhere in between, unfixed, fragmented, like a journal that is to be read at the end of life’s journey in order to complete the picture – however, we cannot help ourselves; we create it and try to capture it through the entirety of our lives. Photographing oneself accounts for delaying mortality, in a way, and proves that we do, in fact, exist. I am here, looking at myself, I take myself through the camera, I remain forever.
Text: Tanja Špoljar. Translation: Toni Zadravec
One of my most intensive experiences connected to photography happened many years before I became a photographer. I found an album of photographs covered with blue textile in my grandparents house. It was completely filled with images of my father. While turning the pages I enjoyed those old, mostly black and white shots and admired the beauty of that young man that will one day in the future become my father. At the same time I couldn’t repel the thought that that album is one of the most narcissistic items that I have ever held in my hands. Memory of the encounter with that album was one of the origins for making this selection.
And for the end, here is my photograph of two photographs of me on which I am photographing myself: