Arden Surdam: Hold Your Breath
From the Book of Genesis to the Carnival of Venice, masks are deeply rooted in performance, ceremony, and otherness. By obscuring the face and consequently the identity, one can engage in profanity, eccentric behavior, or ritualistic performance, and temporarily refute the social construction of gender, and sexuality… Whether fresh or reminiscent, fraught or beautiful, these carnivalesque characters reside in their embrace of fluidity.
- Arden Surdam
The black and white photographs in Hold Your Breath are rooted in the history of the constructed photograph. A confluence of portraiture, sculpture, and performance, the images echo the playful absurdity of Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus theater constructions as well as the sensual yet unsettling juxtapositions characteristic of the photographic work by West Coast artist, Jo Ann Callis. Like Callis, whom the artist studied with while earning her MFA at CalArts, Surdam begins her work by making sculptural forms, which become features of her final photographs. For her latest series, Surdam constructed eccentric papier-mâché headpieces, which she then covered with found fabric and wrapped around her models in a studio setting.
Though the images that arise from these sessions are formally stark and direct, the subjects resonate with a haunting poetic quality. Surdam’s carnivalesque constructions dwell somewhere between human and animal, monster and myth. They are complex hybrids of indiscernible species and gender that are at once eerily familiar and impossible to categorize. Like the work of artists Talia Chetrit, Hans Breder and Bill Brandt who have all influenced Surdam’s practice, her figures take on an unapologetic eroticism through her use of textiles and skin, and the mystery achieved through her powerful use of disguises.
Arden Surdam (b. 1988, New York, NY) has exhibited in Los Angeles at The Situation Room, SLOAN Projects, The Armory Center for the Arts, Photo LA, UCLA Wight Biennial, Paris Photo LA, and Arturo Bandini among other venues. She received her BA in Visual Arts from Oberlin College, and her MFA from CalArts in 2015. She was named winner of Focus Photo L.A. at Photo Basel in 2015 as well as a finalist for the Young California Photographer Award at Paris Photo. She recently exhibited work at Paris Photo’s 2016 fair and was featured in their catalog Parcours, a co-publication with Éditions Xavier Barral tracing the fair’s pioneering role for the promotion of photography. Her work has been featured in Photograph Mag, CARLA, Whitewall Magazine, ArtSlant, BlouinArtInfo and The Eye of Photography etc. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles.