Malerie Marder: Anatomy
November 2 – December 21, 2013
By TESSA MAFFUCCI, MAY 2014
From 2008 to 2013 Malerie Marder photographed legal sex workers in brothels in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Her solo show at Leslie Tonkonow is titled "Anatomy" and the works are presented salon-style, with color prints unframed and in a variety of sizes.
Marder is known for exploring discomfort in her work and Anatomy is no exception. She came upon this subject matter by happenstance while traveling in The Netherlands and decided to face down her own fears and embark on a project to create images of the women who operate within this unseen world. Marder does not work as the documentarian, but rather as the cinematic auteur. Her signature style, of sexually-charged and uncomfortable moments, developed through early photographs including her father nude by the fireplace and couplings of her mother and boyfriend, also nude.
In past work, some of the unease in Marder's photographs was softened by forgiving shadows or the dreamlike lull of black and white, but with this series she chooses, largely, to shoot her subjects in warm bright light, leaving the awkwardness of the moment with nowhere to hide. The signifiers of prostitution are present, but not pervasive. In one photograph a woman sits on a velour-topped barstool against a red velvet curtain and puts on fishnet stockings. In another photograph, a different woman poses on a bed and gazes directly at the camera from behind a gauzy black canopy. Despite these iconic symbols, the women themselves are unexpected. Marder exposes their imperfections, or perhaps more accurately, their normalcy. The flood of light shows scars, veins, ingrown hairs, bumps and blemishes. Most of the women are corpulent, one is tragically thin. Marder has photographed the majority of the women nude, but a few wear fetish attire varying from a latex bodysuit to a maid's mop-cap with a blue ribbon.
The rooms are as diverse as the women themselves. Each space has been decorated thematically, some with antique-style wallpaper, quasi-Impressionist paintings and couches draped in faux-fur. Others have false windows painted onto the walls, which open onto golden beaches and turquoise oceans. The women seem incongruous with their surroundings--solid and sincere amidst the make-believe. Throughout Marder's photographs the smells and textures of the brothel are implied. Next to each bed there is, invariably, the same brand of tissues and lotion. In one photograph a woman leans against the wall at the top of a set of stairs, above her there is a red light, the bulb exposed in an open fixture. The wear of the building is made clear through the uneven steps and the poorly mended marks on the walls. The view of this world that Marder presents is part dream and part real, it is not a glossy or glamorous, but it is also not shocking or scandalous. Keeping with her hallmark style, Marder has created disquieting, yet beautiful images.
The title of this series refers both to the bodies of the women and to the Jacobean classic "The Anatomy of Melancholy" by Robert Burton, a project he undertook in an effort to write himself out of his ongoing depression. Many of Marder's past series have included self-portraits, but she is absent from Anatomy, though her presence is strongly felt. Perhaps, like Burton, she is trying to understand, through her work, the darker parts of herself.
Tessa is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She earned her BA from the Gallatin School at New York University and has furthered her studies at Columbia University and the International Center for Photography.view all articles from this author