|ISA DREYER-BOTELHO (PORTUGAL)
MEMENTO MORI: NOVE BUSTOS
25/2 - 14/3 1998
ΜΗΤΡΟΠΟΛΕΩΣ 72 /225-523
MO - FRI 11.00 - 14.00, 18.00 - 21.00
SA 11.00 - 15.00
MONDAY MORNING CLOSED
The photographed heads are many times larger than life and are printed on white bed sheets. The
models, male and female, are variously aged between 25 and 45. Suffused in light, like classical busts,
they are shown naked shoulders up. Their eyes are closed.
Suspended from the roof of the darkened gallery, back-lit, the sheets become translucent curtains or
screens. They sway ever so softly with changes of current in the ambient air, as though the heads,
despite their deathly allusions, were infomed by a gentle but insistent life force - inhaling and
exhailing, inhailing and exhailing. By this device, the photographic moment which traditionally both
punctures and stops time is here paradoxically held in suspension. Having begun this project as an
essay on pain, and on death as the liberation from that pain, Dreyer-Botelho has made a series of
images which present pain and tranquillity, life and death as simultaneous states.
If a vaguely pained expression drifts across some of these faces, if cheeks, mouth, neck show a
cadence not usually associated with heads viewed front on, this is because most of the photographs
were in fact taken from above, using a horizontal position. The narrow plinth upon which the models
were asked to lie, remains hidden from view but was sufficiently uncomfortable to prevent the facial
expression from registering the relaxed abandon of sleep. Without too adamantly forcing the idea of
pain as a medium of visionary experience, or indeed of the analogies between pain and eroticism,
Dreyer-Botelho allows these suggestions to play across her photographic pieces: suggestive, impicit,
Replacing paper by bed sheets, Dreyer-Botelho avails herself of a material that is physically more
pliable and more diaphanous than photographic paper and that is metaphorically more resilient, for it
is possessed of a host of allusions outside of its use as a support: conceived between bed-sheets, many,
if not most of us are born in a bed, and if we are lucky, we die between sheets, too. The sheet can also
scarcely hide its similitude to a shroud. In the white folds of the sheet, then, are hidden allusions to
the rudiments, life's few truths: sex, parturition, death. One is inevitably reminded of other instances
of such a conflation of an image with its material support: death masks and religious relics.
Like photographs, death masks represent an attempt to stop time. The death masks serve for the living
as a memento of the dead at that liminal moment of transition. Like the death mask, the power of the
relic lies in its contiguity with the body of the deceased, in this case a sacralised body. Most worthy of
note here, as an example of such a relic, is the sudarium or vernicle of Veronica, who is often shown
in traditional paintings of Christ on the road to Calvary.
Through the meshing of image and support, the ripples in the sheets become wrinkles in the
represented skin too: foreshadowing a state of future decay, they thus evoke a passage of time that is
as relentless as it is linear. The figure of death that hovers over such a notion of linear time, imbues
these heads with the function of a memento mori, a reminder of mortality.
In the closed eyes of these sitters, Dreyer-Botelho evokes not only death and sleep, but also a
resistance to our own inquisite gaze, a barrier or obstacle to the menacing power of vision itself. These
elusive Heads not only suspend the dichotomy between wakefulness and sleep, between life and death,
but also, in refusing to engage with our gaze, in seemingly looking inwards, they stubbornly resist
nquiry and the closure of any definite interpetation.
Isa Dreyer-Botelho was born in 1958 in Braga, Portugal.
In 1981 she graduated in International Relations and then continued her post-graduate studies in
Bonn and Berlin.
In 1994 she completed the Photography course at AR.CO., Lisbon and subsequently pursued her
studies at the Royal College of Arts in London with a scholarship from the Calousie Gulbekian
She participated in several group and solo exhibitions in Portugal and abroad. Since 1995 she lives in
Thessaloniki, where she presently works.
The present series of photographic images is her first body of work outside the more specific scope of
documentary (or documentational) photophraphy.