Founder & Director, Roman Road
Founder & Director, Roman Road
“I’ve always been captivated by Alix Marie’s works; they have this unsettling effect on my sense of perception in the way she fluidly moves from sculpture to photography and back again.” - Marisa Bellani
In a Q&A with Unseen Platform, Alix Marie discusses Shredded, her exhibition which was shown in London earlier this year. Comprising of three bodies of work, including the series Olympians, the immersive exhibition took a close look at the bodybuilding subculture.
Unseen Platform: The hyper-muscular bodies in this series are quite different from the “average” bodies you have previously worked with. How did working with bodybuilders differ from your usual subjects? And what brought you to bodybuilding for this project?
Alix Marie: This project was different because it was the first time that I’ve photographed strangers – normally I photograph people I know, often from my intimate circle. In my past work, I was very interested in how to represent intimacy, so my relationship to the model was part of the subject matter I was depicting (such as in Orlando or Maman).
As for bodybuilding, I’ve always had an interest in questioning gender stereotypes, and I’ve gradually mixed more and more mythology into my projects. It was the myth of Heracles and virility that brought me to bodybuilding, which I then discovered was at the crossroads of many subject matters already present in my practice: mythology, photography, sculpture, movement, the body etc.
The installation of Shredded included a soundscape of gym noises, and the dark and confined gallery space also worked to convey the habitat of bodybuilders, as it were. Why did you choose to submerge visitors in this uncomfortably macho space, as opposed to situating the artworks in a white cube?
With most of my installations, I try and produce a bodily experience for the audience; in this instance, even more so, as it was a mirroring of the subject of the work. The darkness was not used to reflect the ‘habitat’ of the gym, but to parallel the stage of bodybuilding competitions. I was interested in thinking about the performance of bodybuilding, their ‘exhibition’ of muscles. Both the gym and the competitions are very loud and lively environments and I wanted to reflect this in the installation.
You’ve commented on the major contradiction in bodybuilding – the combination of weightlifting machismo with the innate campness of posing in competitions. Yet Shredded focused on muscular, detached body parts, rather than the beauty contest aspects. Why did you choose to direct our gaze to these parts?
I want to be clear that the project was in no way a criticism or mocking of bodybuilding. I’m interested in the intersection between stereotypes, and the idea of dedicating one's life and efforts to sculpting one’s body in a quest to achieve an ideal.
Each decision made about the materials used and the presentation of the works bares a reference to the practice of bodybuilding – threading content and form together is something inherent to my practice. I chose to concentrate on fragmented body parts because that is how the bodybuilder thinks: he works on his calf, or back, or arms on different days. He isolates the limbs to work on them individually and attain the ideal physique.
I especially liked the sweat boxes part of the installation, where photographs placed over shallow boxes of water appeared to be sweating, due to hot lights above making the liquid evaporate through the images. Similarly, the inflated body parts brought life to your images, and reflected your background in sculpture. How do you plan to bring this creativity to your upcoming photobook of the Olympians series?
What I want for Olympians is to reflect the original ‘drawings’ I made of marker pen on really thin magazine paper. I think it’s important to show that the images haven’t been blacked out digitally, but that I carefully traced around each figure with layers of ink. Therefore, we are researching printmaking techniques that can retain the gloss and materiality of the black marker pen. The obsessive nature of the project and quantity of images are also essential elements, and the challenge is to find a rhythm which can somehow resonate with the practice of bodybuilding itself, which is all about repetition of the same movements.
I see Olympians (just like my previous book Bleu) as a piece of art in itself, an affordable and more easily disseminated sculpture that is part of the project, rather than a catalogue of the different pieces made in this specific body of work.
About Marisa Bellani
Marisa Bellani is the founder and director of Roman Road, a contemporary art gallery located in the East End of London. Established in 2013, the gallery conceives and achieves innovative solo and group shows with a focus on process based art and new developments in photography.