Karin Hanssen. The Borrowed Gaze

Charlotte Mullins

Hanssen has long been interested in how images, transcribed from one medium to another, morph and change and yet, ostensibly remain the same. She develops this idea further in ‘A Room of One’s Own’ by choosing fragments drawn from a single image, but allowing these to re-shape the subject, to dictate the form of the painting. These fragments question us as to where the authentic image lies: which – if any – is the ‘true’ version? These slippages between the paintings point to the subjectivity of the gaze, both today and historically, and prompt us to examine how we see, how Hanssen sees and how this alters the subject when the image is repeatedly painted. What happens to the woman, to the image, as the medium changes or as she is reproduced in different contexts?
Hanssen describes the woman in ‘A Room of One’s Own’ as a performer, “a stand-in, who becomes part of the ‘display’ room like a kind of puppet or object.” Simultaneously, she appears as a woman with enough leisure time to read in her modern home; as a domestic hostess; as a wife about to have coffee, presumably with her husband; as a fashion model; as a role model; as a ‘mother’ to three children, who appear in Recreation Room (2013-2014), considered later in this essay. She is framed as the perfect modern housewife, who not only has it all, but is a model of aspirational consumerism; she becomes whatever the viewer of the advertisement most desires: a cipher for happiness.
In these works, Hanssen has appropriated both the original images and the photographer’s gaze, thereby re-contextualizing the advertisement for a new, contemporary audience. Her subsequent fragmenting of the main image into disparate parts, a ‘sharing’ of the content, emphasizes the sharing of identity undertaken by the woman in the picture. As Hanssen explains: “The woman always assumes another role to please everyone. Sharing is a major activity, not being yourself, but sharing all the time, all your skills and all possibilities, without making space for yourself. It is this sharing that makes it possible for the fragments to become independent, the opposite of what women in such roles experience.” …
(Charlotte Mullins)

ISBN-13: 9789401420426

240 pages, richley illustrated, 25 × 30 cm, hardcover, English

Lannoo, Tielt & Roberto Polo Gallery, 2014
€ 35.00