"Filles d'Amsterdam" - photographic series - Jean-Luc Moulène

Jean-Luc Moulene: travail de sape.(Critical essay)
Publication: Parachute: Contemporary Art Magazine
Publication Date: 01-APR-06Author: Delbard, Nathalie

" Naturally, Moulène has, once again, taken on an out-of-the-ordinary sort of work, one that gives rise to lively debate; moreover, although we are dealing here with people (Dutch prostitutes) (....)the body is now a body-merchandise, a kind of ultimate consumer object.
(...) in the face of these nude women with their legs spread, with their bodies marked by scars or accessories, and especially with their faces looking straight out at us in alignment with their hairless genitalia, there is no place for the beholder's gaze to seek refuge, no diagonal or intermediary space in which to withdraw. Our gaze constantly wavers between the head and the genitals; it cannot settle on one at the other's expense; it is divided without ever coming to rest. (...)Moulène refuses to separate the head and the sex. This is the major accomplishment of "Filles d'Amsterdam." One might nevertheless object, and rightly so, that this kind of representation is already largely present in our culture's field of images, especially in the pornography industry. And while "Filles d'Amsterdam" is shown in the museum space in such a way as to produce the opposite effect of a private and solitary viewing, (11) because the museum generates an important form of distanciation and forces viewers to confront their responsibility as viewing subjects, we know also that the slightest reproduction in the media (which the artist has, for the moment, authorized infrequently and under strict conditions) tends quickly to "pornify" the images. More certainly, what clearly distinguishes Moulène's photographs has to do with the very nature of the artistic process and, indirectly, with the unusual mode in which these women appear, for these are portraits, or what Moulène defines as depictions "of someone in his or her social relations by means of social signs and their social status." (12) In other words, in the case of the commercialization of bodies, the face--if it appears--must make itself forgotten as a unique object in order to facilitate the selling of the product (by using clearly stereotyped expressions). What is being asked of these "workers," however, is that they address the camera in the light of a social reality that is fully identified as such; they are far from simply putting their heads in the service of their bodies in order to maintain the illusion of the role that is usually assigned to them. It is thus from this site that the "girls of Amsterdam" gaze at us, and this is why their faces impose a persistent presence that is at least equal to the presence of their genitalia--a presence which, in the end, interferes with viewing them as prostitutes."

(11.) Note in this regard the effectiveness of the singular panoptical system Moulène created for his exhibition at the Jeu de Paume, where the thirteen photographs in the series, displayed in the central gallery upstairs, encircled viewers and constantly reminded them of their own gaze through their reflection in the images and the presence of other visitors.
(12.) Moulène, interview with Delbard, op. cit.


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