New technologies have transformed the notion of intimacy in fundamental, and often disquieting, ways. This shift has to do with how we conceptualise the distance, both emotional and physical, between us as individual bodies that inhabit space. There is also a sense in which these technologies demand new ways of understanding how bodies actually create the space in which they exist; this is not a straight-forward exchange, but more like a complex negotiation where one element actively shapes the other and, in doing so, will inevitably be changed itself – neither is as stable or as coherent as it might seem. In her work, Hanna Putz grapples with the issue of how we might present our identity to the world when, in this performance of disclosure, formerly intimate gestures have hardened into a public currency.
In these anonymous rooms a body appears explosively, like a kind of violence. The bodies too can be thought of as “anonymous” in that sense; their specificity disappears when it is understood as an element in an established routine, one that the body as it is can also be concealed by. Indeed, for a cultural moment that trades so emphatically on the business of confession and in which seemingly every kind of admission is not only permitted but actively encouraged, the truly visceral kinds of intimacy that we must face actually become taboo, because they are not so easily subsumed by the sort of cultural narratives that favour these tidy endings. However, what Putz seems most concerned with is the basic dissonance between the identities we perform and the restless energies that they often struggle to contain – most often this manifests itself as a certain awkwardness of affect, minor slippages as opposed to some dramatic rupture; the struggle to maintain these elaborate performances moment-to-moment is seen to be a considerable one. This sense of estrangement is commonly remarked on as being a key facet of contemporary life, apparently the product of those new, technologically distanced ways we have of communicating with each other – or rather, of merely simulating that communication, because its content is deeply uncertain.
Of course, that there is some “fundamental” self being concealed here is not the most accurate supposition either, but her subjects often appear to struggle with forming what might be thought of as an authentic relation, as opposed to merely evincing a monolithic notion of “the self” that is at once unchanging and transcendent. This self, then, exists as the product of the supposedly genuine relations it can enter into and in Putz’s work this is perhaps nowhere more apparent – and never more complex – than in her pictures of mothers with their young children. She has photographed this pivotal relationship in a way that implies a deeper sense of ambiguity perhaps too rarely seen. What these images suggest is an intimacy at the limits of representation; embodied and visceral, it threatens to rupture the neat, evasive performances we so often take as the sum of what is visible to us.
Written by Darren Campion / Published 24 May 2013