LONDON.- The Michael Hoppen Gallery
unveiled Samantha Roddick's first artistic project, Hidden Within. Best known as the original founder of the erotic boutique, Coco de Mer, Roddick has long been exploring our cultural relationship to sex. In this project, which has occupied her for the last couple of years, she turns her attention to the subject of the sexual objectification of women. Roddick takes as her creative muse the twentieth century Italian architect and designer Carlo Mollino, and in particular examines his erotic polaroids through which she seeks to explore the notion of the male gaze and those feelings of shame and anxiety that persist in relation to sex in our society.
An air of mystery surrounds Mollino and his legacy. Over a period of 13 years, he secretly and obsessively invited women to pose for him. He hoarded these polaroids, these moments of fabricated intimacy, and they were found, in their thousands, after his death. Each woman came to him as an individual; she was dressed in costume and lauded for her beauty; and then in the dark of night, she would leave faceless, nameless, one of many. Mollino styled the women in submissive poses and always shot from a low camera angle, endowing them with what Roddick describes as a "power of submissive surrender".
The obsessive, ritualistic and fetishistic qualities of his pictures draws us to them, and it is these same characteristics that provided Roddick with the vision for her homage. Roddick chose 12 of Mollino's polaroids and has reconstructed each one as closely as possible - not once, but 12 times, using seriality as a means to explore the subject of objectification. She called upon 12 women of various races, sizes and ages to be photographed individually. Each time the models are dressed up in matching outfits that correspond to the original picture and are asked to strike the identical pose. The goal of the project was to craft the images as close to each other as possible in order to make the women seem indistinguishable and with no personal identity. We have Mollino's infamous brides' behind, the transparent soft green babydoll, the plastic mac and - in a nod to contemporary society and the trend to eradicate pubic hair - we have merkins. The compositions are directed by Roddick herself, so that the sitter has no self-determination nor control, and thus the women are turned into a singular object - so much so that in some instances a couple of very loving husbands could not pick out their wives from the line-up. In total there are 144 unique images, a number chosen for historic and symbolic reasons.
Hidden Within' explores a cultural tendency towards the objectification of women and questions the religious roots of sexual shame. Integral to the project is Roddick's choice of presentation. The pictures, all hand-printed, are encased in intricately embroidered ceremonial velvets reminiscent of religious altarpieces. The artist has chosen an assortment of age-old symbolic references to draw in her audience. There is the gold thread of the DNA helix representing hidden information, and its shape in turn mirrors that of the snakes' which accompany it. The bee and its hexagonal honeycomb refer to sacred geometry and the architecture inherent within nature. Every detail has been considered and perfected. Roddick has taken Mollino's obsession and made it very much her own.