Heimo Zobernig “FETISH”
with an essay by Sabeth Buchmann
Published 2007 / 2011
Format: 24 x 33 x 5 cm.
88 loose-leaved sheets in signatures of four pages
20 sheets of fabric and plastic materials
Printed box covered in pearl white synthetic fabric and lined in red velvet
The gift, and notion of exchange, the act of barter, trade, and cycle of consumption are all predicated on the central role of the object in the culture of commodity. Fetish, a new work by Heimo Zobernig, takes as its central subject the nature of the thing, reducing even the carnal act, the moment of desire, and of possession, into a relational situation that is built upon its status as a form of economy. Upon invitation by Three Star Books, Zobernig has crossed into territory that few artists venture into. Usually decried as kitsch, or relegated to sub-artistic genres, pornography in and of itself, does not interest the artist. Rather, it is the act of possession, the idea of desiring, and grasping the ineffable, that is the subject of Zobernig’s investigation. The artist has invited writer Sabeth Buchmann to contribute a text, an essay marked in ambivalence about the aesthetic and political merits of pornography. Dozens of tantalizing images of erotic possibility, either selected or staged by the artist, alternate with demure “curtains” dividing this book work even further. The book is constructed of Buchmann’s text set in letterpress, preceding images of pornographic origin art directed by Zobernig. These full color photographs chronicle several dozen theatrical “scenes” of pleasure..
In sometimes humorous images that slyly wink at art historical references as well (Gustave Courbet, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Hans Bellmer, and his own early performances, etc.), or elaborate standard tropes in pornography, Zobernig creates a catalogue of desire that does nothing so much as remove itself from the image, and range into the realm of concept, the more graphic the picture. Showing us that lust can be as cold as dry ice, Zobernig coolly sheathes each image with a page-sized sheet of some material that also conjures up the world of pornography: latex, mesh, vinyl.
But rather than being rooted in the flesh, Fetish is a commentary on our own desire to possess, even to possess an artwork. The artist’s readings in anthropology, and in theories of the cultural processes that mitigate attitudes toward objects and people, have lead to this work, from Marcel Mauss to Levi-Struass to contemporary theories. The notion of theorist Hartmut Bohme, that Western culture is permeated by fetishism, in the very desire for goods and the economic motor that feeds this, is of utmost interest to Zobernig. It is these field theories, rather than a prurient interest in carnality, that drive the logic of the book. Strangely, the images become abstract schemas, resembling the curtains that hide them. And this sensation of eternal remove is perhaps what desire is about, that hunger, which, with barely any respite, must be filled over and over again.