Heather Rasmussen’s Body Variations began with her recreating three iconic pieces by surrealists Hans Breder, Rene Magritte, and Ujj Zsuzsi. In these “recitations,” Rasmussen arranged her own body among objects and possessions familiar to these surrealists to create studies in the form of three Polaroids. The “choreography” of these three studies opened up new modes of working for Rasmussen, who is also a dancer. In the process of remaking these artworks, Rasmussen was able to imagine the new series of photographs and sculptures that make up her current exhibition at ACME. gallery.
The works of 20th century surrealists fragmented and manipulated the form of the female body, sometimes objectifying it by using detached limbs or obscuring the model’s face. Rasmussen’s images, in contrast, expand and enliven the feminine form, even when her face is hidden. Using her own body as subject in staged photographs, she reflects her identity as a woman and dancer. Incorporating phallic squash, mirrors, plaster casts of her own limbs, as well as herself as material for her photographs, Rasmussen’s still-life compositions almost resemble collages. Untitled (legs and mirror #2), which recalls Breder’s mirror photographs, multiplies Rasmussen’s limbs in a spiraling pattern recalling an aerial shot of synchronized swimmers. A gigantic squash is placed coyly in the center of the circle of legs. Her pointed toe hints at her background in ballet.
Heather Rasmussen, Untitled (Legs and mirror # 2), 2016, Pigment print, 24 x 32 inches, unframed. Courtesy of the artist and ACME., Los Angeles
Rasmussen’s placement of objects is precise, as is her choice of color and texture. The mirrors are positioned in just the right angles to convey optical illusions, as in Untitled (holding leg over chair with mirror), where the image in the mirror looks slightly vaginal but also aligns with the artist’s neck and leg. Monochromatic schemes create a morbid sensibility by making it hard for the eye to distinguish between Rasmussen’s body and the background. Images such as Untitled (three legs in a mirror with towel, yellow) and Untitled (leg on blanket on blanket) confuse flesh, plaster, and fabric, invoking images of death and decomposition.
Heather Rasmussen, Untitled (Three legs in mirror with towel, yellow), 2016, Pigment print, 24 x 32" inches, unframed. Courtesy of the artist and ACME., Los Angeles
By using her own body as matter in her work, Rasmussen points to the fragmentation of being an artist, who figuratively “puts oneself in one’s work.” Her photographs and assemblages also reflect the materiality of being a contemporary artist, such as the accumulation of commodities in her own studio, which can often feel cluttered until properly arranged. The sculptural assemblage Untitled (Worktable #2) arranges phallic squash with clips and plywood, combining objects intended for both the foreground and background of her photographs and blurring the line between process and product.
What is unique to Rasmussen’s work is that the movement behind the photograph or sculpture is given equal importance to the final product. She not only places her own image into her photographs; she reveals the steps through which she arrived there. By displaying the original assemblages next to photographs of them, Rasmussen presents preliminary materials in conjunction with polished images. Photographs and still-life assemblages do not suddenly appear fully formed, and Rasmussen’s work hints at the thought and labor that goes into each piece.
Heather Rasmussen, Untitled (Worktable # 2), 2017, Mixed materials, 34 x 32 x 47 inches. Courtesy of the artist and ACME., Los Angeles
The original remakes of the three surrealists’ work are displayed in the gallery’s office, removed from the exhibition’s main installation. Those three polaroids, which Rasmussen took for the original “recitation,” served as practice material for Rasmussen’s photographic interpretive dance. In displaying both the assemblages and these original studies, Rasmussen allows the viewer to see the movement and thought process behind each of her photographs. Rather than relying on the mysteriousness of the surrealistic dreamscape, or the myth of artistic genius, Body Variations builds off Rasmussen’s multidimensional creative process.
Heather Rasmussen’s Body Variations continues at ACME. through June 10.
Sóla Agustsson is a writer based in New York. She is working toward her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University and has contributed to The Huffington Post, FLAUNT, Bullett, Hyperallergic, Salon, and ArtSlant.
(Image at top: Heather Rasmussen, Untitled (Three legs and squash in mirror, yellow), 2016, pigment print, 30 x 40" inches, unframed. Courtesy of the artist and ACME., Los Angeles)