Currently reading : Irregular Body, Regular Pleasure: Joel Peter Witken
Once I had a Master. My Master is yet to be identified.
Hidden between the deformities of the grotesque is the flawless being. This is a call for the un-perfect, the deformed, and the mutants of society. The unmediated variations allows for a vast sum of oddities, a juxtaposition of morbid flesh and sound mind. It is not the destruction of the perfect body that causes intrigue, but the means of overcoming undesirable prevalences. An amalgamation of decomposed pornography. What may not seem erotic from the outside, for some, can be a perversion of their order. The erotic is fully formed, but coordinated with sophisticated malice. The demon radiates with intensity.
A demon of sophistication, Joel Peter Witken, stager of the elaborate death and the magnificent abnormal, captured delicately posed corpses and bravely naked mutants, of whom he arranged in antique nightmares. He called out for the monstrous, physical prodigies of all kinds, “pinheads, dwarfs, giants, hunchbacks, pre-op transsexuals, bearded women, active or retired sideshow performers, contortionists (erotic), women with one breast (center), people who live as comic book heroes, satyrs, twins joined at the foreheads, anyone with a parasitic twin, twins sharing the same arm or leg, living Cyclopes, people with tails, horns, wings, fins, claws, reversed feet or hands, elephantine limbs. He continues… all people with unusually large genitals, sex masters and slaves. Women whose faces are covered with hair or large skin lesions and who are willing to pose in evening gowns. Five androgynies willing to pose together as ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.’ Hairless anorexics. Human skeletons and human pincushions. People with complete rubber wardrobes.”
This encounter between the sacred and the profane is a profound intervention on the human condition. Bodies are deformed, a portrayal of life close to death. The margins of society centred, their naked bodies on display – a pleasure of suffering, an orgasmic pain. The body dominates the image. They are a reflection to the limits of human form a statement of truth about flesh and its impartial attraction. There is no ideal or aesthetic obligation, these models of a marginal milieu surpass the self and allow for occurrence of the fallen and the weight of its reality.
“I revolt against the mystical in order to be overwhelmed and won by it. It is unfathomable, yet I attempt to understand it. It is invisible, yet I try to objectify it, hoping to find revelation and truth”
There are infinite possibilities to the human body.
Strewed alongside the models discarded by the current aesthetic obligatory are human remains, animal carcases and wax anatomical models. Does this repel you? The meaty stumps of flesh protruding out towards you, a shrivelled penis turning back on itself, half hidden under its bulbous stomach. This representation of the divine and of all forms of heaven and hell is a juxtaposition of flesh and loss that creates a weaponised pornography – infected with desire, voyeurism and repulsion.
These disjointed bodies of societal fragmentation, produce excessive compositions that are further manipulated and perverted by Witkins himself. Each image begins by being sketched onto paper, each detail arranged before the staging begins, the host and the objects of which they are lain with meticulously composed. Once photographed, Witkin transform and perverts the image by piercing and scratching the negatives. He doctors the images as another statement, but this time against the processes of photography. His blatant objectification of deformed bodies elucidates the practices of clinical photography, where amputees were medically pathologised. Instead he poses the bodies within the frame of traditions and motifs of classical art, against the curve of western ideals of beauty.
His work goes beyond the gaze of fascination and fear of human violence, more so, it is a statement against the human condition. It is a remark on vitality, exhibitionism, sensuality, eroticism and the pleasure of the body in pain. What bodies should experience pleasure and how they are to experience it is no longer a question of cultural assumptions and judgements, our greatest fears and inhibitions are fore fronted, our inevitable mortality staged in an elaborate pleasure tableau.