Joëlle Van Autreve
Capturing the Uncanny

25 January - 25 February 2024

PhotoBrussels Festival

Not at all coincidentally, the number two dominates the exhibition of this Belgian photographer. Only two works are shown, from a nevertheless extensive oeuvre, which was mainly realized in the last two years. The photo series La Lutte and the video Malaise each show two women.

In the first work they are naked, like the vast majority of her characters. In the second they are scantily clad. In both works, the background is also naked, empty, smooth. This nudity exposed by Van Autreve is much more than merely erotic. It is also, among other things, the nakedness of naked truth, and bare essentials. Where in the photo series the duo is involved in a very physical struggle, the pair in the video remains - diferent than one would expect with this medium - virtually motionless. Their struggle is mental. One can never get rid of the impression that Van Autreve - although she does not appear physically in her photos - keeps making self-portraits. And that these duos also represent her inner confict and split. Most of her models foat in the limbo between girl and woman, or girl and boy, as each other’s double, twin sister and alter ego.

That leitmotiv was recently also linked by Sadeq Rahimi to the theory of the Uncanny, developed more than a century ago by Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud, and expressing the frightening unease of something that seems familiar and alienating at the same time. The same crazy dark undertone always dominates Van Autreve’s work, no matter how much she wants to capture moments of euphoria and happiness. Hope versus despair, symbiosis versus division, familiar versus alienating, her works are invariably two. And then there is that third one, the tension that moves restlessly, dialectically, but unpredictably between those extremes. And makes these works so powerful.

Text written by Max Borka
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