Artist Katrien De Blauwer’s photomontages have us doing double takes
Her uncanny clippings offer a new way of seeing at Nederlands Fotomuseum
She’s known as the photographer without a camera – an intriguing way of introducing works that bring back long-forgotten imagery from vintage magazines. Katrien De Blauwer has worked with photomontage methods since she made her first collage books 20 years ago, after abandoning a degree in fashion at Antwerp’s Royal Academy.
Her early books were made as moodboards for fashion collections but they soon evolved into a language of their own, De Blauwer chopping away in a trance-like state. She likens her practice more closely to that of a film editor than a photographer, and cites the structures of nouvelle vague cinema and film noir as influences.
As prolific as she has been, the Belgian artist would keep her work under wraps for years, only presenting them to the public in the form of a first publication in 2014. Since then, she’s produced several further books and presented exhibitions, the latest and largest of which is now showing at Rotterdam’s Nederlands Fotomuseum.
‘Attack’ is a bold title for an exhibition – but this is the way De Blauwer approaches her work, using simple tools (scissors, paper, glue, pencil, and more recently paint) to cut intuitively through her stock of collected magazines, printed in the west between 1920 and 1960. Her method may be intuitive but the results are as sharp and decisive as the motion of her scissors.
Returning constantly to female bodies, the montages have a strange erotic resonance, as dark and murky as surrealists or dadaists, with floating, disembodied limbs and lips, noses and toes, and intrusions of red paint. Her process of deconstructing and reassembling becomes a comment on the depiction of women in the source images of the mid-20th century, at a time when image culture started to take off. It evolves into the present perception of female forms and how the past has instilled contradictory ideas about femininity and femaleness.
These are tensions felt by the artist herself and revealed by the openness of her modus operandi: on the one hand, between De Blauwer’s clear appreciation of fashion and her attraction to beauty, and on the other, her desire to tell new stories by reinventing these old images and ideas, cultivating a different narrative entirely. After all, why do we rip, tear and cut things up, if not to express our dissatisfaction with the status quo? §