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Meet the photographer who turns models into erotic mannequins (NSFW)

Polish photographer Joanna Grochowska’s images blur the distinction between human and non-human.

Inspired by the grotesque, plastic dolls of Hans Bellmer, her photos depict women as bound, faceless mannequins. With their faces covered in masks, rope, and even wax, it’s hard to determine the thoughts of these figures in their current state.

It’s through this absence of emotion and expression that gives us, the viewers, the power to probe and imagine. It’s a process Joanna calls “sophisticated mannequinization,” referring to the submission of a body that exists for voyeurism.

“The Body, composed in an anonymous space, serves as an object of voyeuristic desires,” Joanna wrote, “awaiting its limitless anagrammatical recompositions imposed by the imagination of the Viewer.”

She added: “The purpose is to explore the conjunction between the play of pain and the phenomena of beauty.”

Joanna Grochowska

We recently spoke to Joanna to learn more about her and her work. Take a look:

Tell us a little about your background. How did you become a photographer?

“I chose photography as a medium as a consequence of certain intellectual and aesthetic interests developed since girlhood, since an ‘initiation’ moment when I saw the image of a Doll of Hans Bellmer first time.

“During my MFA studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, I was conducting a research project on the motif of sadomasochism in Art, which became a subject of the theoretical part of my diploma from the Faculty of Media Art and Set Design.

“Using the medium of photography has been perfect to establish my own aesthetic language and create art exploring the notions of sadomasochism, beauty, pleasure, transgression in the context of human form.”

Joanna Grochowska

How would you describe your work?

“Risky for the Viewer.”

Where do you turn to for inspiration? What’s your creative process like?

“The imagery of my works has been determined by certain intellectual and aesthetic influences. Crucial has been discovering a two-volume work Phantom of Desire. Visions of Masochism in Art edited by Austrian theoretician and curator Peter Weibel.

“Other examples might include erotic book collection of Gerard Nordmann, muzan-e ‘cruelty prints’ of Japanese artist Yoshitoshi, exhibitions like Savage Beauty held in 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Sade – Attacking the Sun held in 2014 at the Musee d’Orsay, collection of the Little Black Gallery in London, post-fetish wearable art by Zana Bayne and Paul Seville, photography of young Australian artist Joseph Haxan… the list is very long.”

Joanna Grochowska

What equipment do you often use?

“Light, space, and faceless human form.”

You mentioned your works are currently on view at the NSFW: Female Gaze exhibition at the Museum of Sex in NYC. Could you tell us more about it?

“I am honoured to be featured in the exhibition NSFW:Female Gaze at the Museum of Sex, co-curated by artist Lissa Rivera and VICE Media’s Creators. The exhibition showcases over 25 emerging female artists from various disciplines, offering new perspectives on erotic art, sexual desire, body and gender; challenging the historical concept of the ‘male gaze’.”

Joanna Grochowska

Is there a message or a theme that you’re trying to communicate with your photography?

“Just playing with the Viewer.

“The imagery depicting person as a mannequin, blurs the distinction between Human and Nonhuman.
Still, passive, faceless figure refers to void, emptiness, tabula rasa – provokes inventing of new desires, transgression; imposed by the imagination of the Viewer.”

What are you working on next?

“Something on Absence. Using multiplied version of my body to create my fake twin sister.”

Joanna Grochowska

Joanna Grochowska’s work is currently on view at the Museum of Sex in NYC as part of VICE’s NSFW: Female Gaze exhibition. You can learn more about the exhibit here.

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