Reviews

Joanna Piotrowska at Southard Reid

London

Joanna Piotrowska, XXXIII / FROWST, 2014, gelatin silver hand print, 39⅜" x 31½". COURTESY THE ARTIST AND SOUTHARD REID, LONDON

Joanna Piotrowska, XXXIII / FROWST, 2014, gelatin silver hand print, 39⅜" x 31½".

COURTESY THE ARTIST AND SOUTHARD REID, LONDON

Who is the “Hester” of this exhibition’s title? Is she the woman poised for a massage, her pale, exposed neck both supported and encircled by the anonymous masseur’s hand? Or is she the androgynous girl striking an awkward pose in the corner of a room? Joanna Piotrowska’s choreographed photographs of people focus more on the psychological tension between her subjects, and between subject and photographer, than on her models’ identities.

But the best works here were those without a human presence, where the environments themselves carry a psychic charge. One particular interior, with thickly carpeted stairs, polished parquet floors, and an intricate marquetry ceiling, might almost be a film set for a tense drama or thriller.

Piotrowska made witty use of the reproduction and display possibilities of photography, repeating one image three times (two identically sized versions hung at different heights, and one printed smaller) to uncanny effect. Upstairs, she unexpectedly added a soundtrack of her own voice softly urging us to relax our eyes, mouth, and nose and let the ideas flow, because “certain things block other things.” Piotrowska’s work seduces quickly, only to leave you feeling that this seductive surface is blocking other, less palatable, less easily knowable things.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 127.

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