Twisted Femmes: Anna Uddenberg’s Uncompromising Sculptures

Twisted into a pretzel, ass up and selfie stick pointed at it; crawling into a stroller or bent backwards over a carry-on suitcase: Anna Uddenberg’s sculptures find themselves in positions we are inclined to describe as “compromising.” Cast from resin and plaster, dressed up in reflective thongs, dangly belly button piercings, puffy coats and crocs, their names are Lady Unique #1-3, Cutesy Counts or Journey of Self Discovery. Their flexibility is remarkable. The viewer’s impulse to describe their poses as above, or “degrading” even, is precisely what the Swedish artist is getting at. The point is that this is a narrative the viewer places upon the sculpture, not a pose it inhabits. “Giving the viewer everything that they need to be able to feel that they’re consuming art here is actually as superficial, if not more superficial. That whole idea of wanting something from art like that is very based on a consensus. It’s not breaking any rules,” Uddenberg addresses the conversation that has unfolded around her work, which exactly mirrors the concept at the heart of it.

Tintoretto, Susanna and the Elders, 1555-56

Tintoretto, Susanna and the Elders, 1555-56

In a 1972 episode of his TV programme Ways of Seeing, art critic John Berger dissects the tradition of the nude in European art history on the example of Susanna and the Elders. Painterly renditions of the biblical story often show Susanna looking out of the painting at the viewer, the “spectator-owner” as Berger calls him, or at herself in the mirror. “She sees herself first and foremost as a sight, which means a sight for men. Thus, the mirror became a symbol for the vanity of women, yet the male hypocrisy in this is blatant: you paint a naked woman because you enjoy looking at her, put a mirror in her hand, and call the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you have depicted for your own pleasure,” Berger observes pointedly.

Female narcissism obviously is a misogynistic concept. “Being a feminist is about defeating, fighting those ideas. But actually, what a lot of gender studies has been about is looking into what’s masculine, figuring out what masculinity is, and how to conform to it maybe. Feminism’s ideal is a middle class white butch. ‘Don’t do feminine things.’ This excludes so many ethnicities, and models of femininity,” says Uddenberg. Her sculptures currently on view at the 9th Berlin Biennale explicitly do not follow this doctrine. Their stylized bodies are caricatures of what a “woman” “looks like,” yet their hyper-femme physique, positioning and accessories capture something about the way we look at ourselves. They are both object and subject. They turn you on, yet they repulse you. Their agency is palpable, but their intentions are intangible. “I’m also very alienated from femininity,” says Uddenberg.

BB9_Anna_Uddenberg_10

Installation view.

The marginalized body is not easy to love. It requires a radical change of perspective to recognize its strengths rather than loathe it for the weaknesses it comes to stand for. Inspecting interpersonal relationships and power dynamics provides powerful insight here. Uddenberg’s practice is rooted in performance works like The Girlfriend Experience (2009). Inspired by the impersonal intimacy of the relationship between the escort and her customer, “I was trying to see how you perform being a girlfriend, basically. The term ‘girlfriend’ summed up a kind of character, and I looked into escort agencies to see how they would present themselves and their qualities. ‘Loving,’ ‘caring,’ ‘I’m an ultra feminine girl’ – I used to know this by heart. I found the language very similar to the language of a CV. How you promote yourself is personal, but also very generic. I do find it interesting how something that is supposed to be intimate actually contains clearly defined roles. A girl has a very clear set of personalities to be. These things are real. It’s not something that we pretend or make up. We live through these scripts.” 

BB9_Anna_Uddenberg_13

Anna Uddenberg, Journey of Self Discovery, 2016. Courtesy Anna Uddenberg, photo: Timo Ohler.

The power of Uddenberg’s work lies in her will and ability to embrace this irritating multiplicity: playing into societal ideas of the submissive femme also allows one to charge what is called stereotype tax, a toll paid by the person doing the stereotyping for their preconceived notions. “What happens when you take on the role of the listener, when you’re actively listening to someone? In these power relations, you can creep up from underneath and rule the situation. You end up being on top, from the bottom.”

Who submits and who dominates is not always clear. “Cuteness can be utilized to direct people around you,” says the artist, “femininity is something you perform, and it’s about aesthetics.” Four waves of feminism in, what is widely perceived as strong, independent, powerful is still aligned with traits historically perceived as masculine. Uddenberg’s sculptures refuse to conform to this essentialism. Instead, they confront their audience with how it understands feminine appearances and characteristics: is she vulnerable, or is she flexible? Is this dichotomy real? Is she posing, and if so, for whom? Who is she? Perhaps posing more questions than they make statements – does it get more femme than that? – one thing you cannot help but realize looking at them, really looking at them, is: Don’t underestimate her.

Related Content

  • Deeper

  • Thus Spoke Bischofberger: Artforum’s Eternally Swiss Back Cover

    An advertisement for the art gallery belonging to dealer and collector Bruno Bischofberger has occupied the back cover of every issue of Artforum since April 1987. Seen out of context and en masse, the eternally Swiss contents of these promotions at first appear idiosyncratic; upon further scrutiny, however, they seem insane.More
  • Apparel

    032c “Dark Times” Brecht T-Shirt Black

    €50
    Buy Now
  • Société de 032c: GLOBAL PREDICTIONS from Cyber Oracle SITA ABELLAN

    “The major debate everyone is avoiding is how technology will modify our society and economy,” says the model, DJ, and self-proclaimed “techno princess” in a series of dystopian prophecies. “Technology is forging our behavior and will deeply affect who we become as human beings. Avoiding discussions about the use of technology without limitations and restraints will cause major injustices.”More
  • 032c WWB Collection

    032c WWB Turtleneck Camouflage

    €80
    Buy Now
  • Apparel

    032c Classics Logo Beanie

    €40
    Buy Now
  • Salty, Litigious, Iconoclastic: DAVID SIMON on TV as discourse

    With “The Wire,” DAVID SIMON accomplished the unlikely feat of captivating both West ­Baltimore bruisers and The New Yorker subscribers for an hour a week, over the course of six years. Twenty years into television’s latest “Golden Age,” as the creative blueprint pioneered by Simon and shows like The Sopranos unfurls into an endless stream of content from Amazon and Netflix, we revisit our 2011 interview with Simon from 032c Issue 20.More
  • OG? OK! Onitsuka Tiger Unveils 70th Anniversary OK Basketball Shoes in Berlin

    At their store on Alte Schönhauserstrasse in Berlin, Japanese footwear mainstays Onitsuka Tiger held a Japan-themed mini festival to herald the arrival of the OK Basketball MT and the OK Basketball Lo: two new shoes inspired by the groundbreaking design that ignited the Onitsuka Tiger brand almost 70 years ago.More
  • CROSS-DRESSING IN THE WEHRMACHT: Unseen Practices at the German Front

    While collecting amateur photography from periods during and after the war, Berlin-based visual artist Martin Dammann would, “from time to time,” stumble upon photographs of cross-dressing soldiers. Provoked, he began to seek out more, drawn to the “kaleidoscope of emotional states” that they revealed: “Desire for women. Desire for men. To be a woman. To be elsewhere. To be someone else.” More
  • THE BIG FLAT NOW: Power, Flatness, and Nowness in the Third Millennium

    As a contemporary metaphor, flatness describes how the invention of the Internet has restructured global society. At its origin, its promise was a social revolution founded on intersectional equality and universal democracy. It is our contention that that promise may yet be fully realized.More