Gallery BWA Dizajn – Talk
50-067 Wrocław, Poland
MPM Gallery Exhibition
Plac Strzelecki 14
52-007 Wrocław, Poland
Private view: 2nd June 7pm
Exhibition continues till end of July 2022
Fight, Flight or Fuck
Gideon Jacobs on Caroline Tompkins’ Bedfellow
For me, the scariest photograph in Caroline Tompkins’ Bedfellow, the one that quietly triggers ancient mechanisms in my body that make me want to run far, far away, is of a flower. The flower—protruding from a Cleistocactus Baumannii according to the internet—is fleshy in both texture and color, but it’s a kind of fleshiness that is usually hidden when found in nature, protected by some covering because it’s too raw and sensitive to be exposed to the elements. Yet this flower isn’t just exposed; it’s surrounded by menacing cactus needles, growing within centimeters of potential puncture. A ladybug crawls up its peduncle, making its way toward the ovary. The tip of its stigma is beginning to appear as it blossoms. The scene’s phallic and yonic symbolism is so overt, so obscene, that the image eventually leaves the symbolic behind and becomes literal again.
It’s possible I find this photograph so viscerally unsettling because I unconsciously identify my genitalia with the precariously located flower, but I don’t think it’s that simple. What makes Bedfellow a body of work that can be felt in the body is the way Tompkins uses the power dynamics of binary gender constructs to capture a kind of primal vulnerability, one that transcends gender: the inherent risk of walking around soft creatures in a hard world. Soft vs. hard—the dichotomy can be found in nearly every frame, two opposing forces simultaneously coexisting and threatening each other. In some way, it’s this quality, even more than the sinister glares or hints of violence, that charges these pictures with a palpable sense of danger.
Of course, paired with this sense of danger is the other side of vulnerability’s coin: pleasure. Some level of exposure, insecurity, and unguardedness is, arguably, a prerequisite to pleasure. Maybe that’s partly why arousal and anxiety are so inextricably linked, opposites in one sense, cousins in another. Tompkins’ project is, at its core, an exploration of this link, undertaken using her personal experience as a woman who both desires and fears men. Over and over, she points her camera, and with it, her version of the hetero “female gaze,” straight into the belly of the beast. Over and over, she comes out with evidence of its fundamental complexity, little rectangular reminders that heaven and hell are, in fact, totally real—you just have to look for them in the same place.