Leif Claesson’s moral dilemma.
Images that engender a resistance. Images that upset and engage the viewer. Images that manage to both question established truths and push the arts dialogue in a new direction. Works of art made to enter and change the course of the conversation, demand other strategies than those that merely confirm the status quo.
When we first set eyes on the photographic series Decomposed by Leif Claesson its tempting to quickly pass judgment; to distance ourselves both from the action we think we are witnessing and the story we infer. It takes a while before we realize that all is not as it appears. What triggers the initial reaction, encouraging a simplistic moral statement, is a carefully set trap.
Leif Claesson has, like no other Swedish artist, problematized the everyday. From the moment he chose his subject, it’s been handled with utmost seriousness.
Claesson’s works have changed over time, as he has had to wade through the moral swamp established by documentary photography and bang his head up against its ideologically charged practice. He photographed reality, but it did not come with him to the darkroom. A problem that proved difficult to solve. He has had to find his own strategies, new ways to solve the task he set himself. To show us the outsider’s perspective. Claesson has tried everything, even dressing up wearing the clothes of others. In order to represent another’s existence the artist has indeed pushed himself as far as he was able.
In the work “Decomposed” the focus has shifted, and a new set of questions appear. It is as if his own interior void now functions as a metaphor and a manifestation of the dark depths of human desire. Claesson isn’t so much interested in the excluding mechanics of todays society, as he is in shedding light on moral issues relating to one’s rights to remain outside society. He questions our right to abdicate from societal norms and ask if those who want to exist beyond all moral rules and concepts can still be considered human? Or, is human worth intrinsically linked to the participation in the implicit social agreement?
Can those who utter the words “ I am not one of you” still be considered humans and enjoy the same rights as the rest of us? If the breach has been motivated by social revolutionary motives the answer will probably be yes. But if my desire takes me in a direction that makes me go against all norms and moral conventions and I do this only to satisfy my own desires, what am I then?
The basic concept of the series “Decomposed” is a re-photographing of found images collected by Claesson in some homeless universe. Here moral issues can be seen to enter the story. Claesson gives us access to personal images not made for sharing with an audience. When I see them my thoughts run to questions relating to who is the victim in this case. Images in the form of a collage, created out of cut-outs from pornographic magazines. It is all too easy to see the work as a reproduction of proof. Proof of mans brutal violence against women. To put it simply, viewing these creations is not an uncomplicated act. The collages are based on classic pornographic iconography. Submissive heads tilted backwards, pouting half-opened mouths, faces stained by sperm. But even more troubling perhaps than having to contemplate sperm-flecked faces is the fact that somebody has removed the eyes of all the featured women with a pair of scissors.
This is scarily consistent. Both real and affecting. When I realize that what I see is not an artist’s illustration of the belief that the male gaze objectifies women but rather the personal tool of someone’s desire, I wonder who the victim is?
This is an area more commonly addressed by film and popular culture than by art. An area that touches on the mechanics of male desire rather than showing us its consequences. One example can be found in Blue Velvet by David Lynch, where Dennis Hopper’s character screams “ Don’t you fucking look at me” at Isabella Rossellini’s female counterpart as he tries to satisfy his desires with her help.
What I see then are the results of a desire given free reign. Where omnipotence, a wish to be King in one’s own universe, compels a man to remove all looks that may engender doubt regarding his authority. The removal of eyes from pornographic pictures in this narrative is less about hating women or even about loving them. It is about creating an illusion of mastery. Those present disturb the desire for absolute power. So, what is a person, so entirely without self-confidence that he cannot face his own reality, to do? He remakes it. He makes it his own.
When then, does fantasy hit the limit, how far can human desire be pushed, when does it become an act that threatens the pervasive order? When does a deed qualify the perpetrator as insane? Claesson does not pose the question: Is that allowed? He incites us, the viewers, to do so. To make a moral judgment. Try and see where you end up. Do use worlds like pervert, crazy person, insane and mental. Then try to combine them with terms like human worth, individuality, rights of man. What Claesson does is return these collages, found and collected, to nature. He sites them within the natural cycle, and in the process defuses the social question. He remakes them as a sublime and lyrical piece of work. A piece beyond moral standpoints. He refashions them into objects of desire, fine art. Perhaps Leif Claesson’s own moral dilemma is located here? Using materials found amidst social misery for his own purpose, taking proofs and creating sublime imagery replete with meaning? Struggling to articulate the validity of this act?
I believe Claesson questions if he can afford to indulge in the whole visual spectra of his medium. Can he permit himself the pleasure of using a beautiful vocabulary, is he allowed to adopt what is aesthetically pleasing to solve his task? Is he allowed to make art?
Personally I don’t think he needs to ask himself these questions again.
Martin Sjoberg Swedish artist