Jordanna Kalman’s “uncanny”

Jordanna Kalman

Kalman’s work predominantly deals with femininity and identity, expressing her difficulty with those throughout her life as a woman. Her Invisible series paves a new path in her work; it concerns absence. In her artist statement, a brief overview of the motivation behind this series is given, in Kalman’s divulging of her mother’s unexpected death. The notion of absence is thus portrayed through her manipulation of the image. There are female bodies with no heads. Others are shown to be fading, disappearing into the background. In this representation of the struggle of living with the loss of a loved one, Kalman presents “absence from the world”.

Kalman’s evocation of the series’ inherent surrealism is evident. In his Manifestoes of Surrealism, André Breton defines the surreal as the rational and the irrational coming together as reality and dream. Bodies are clearly outlined and yet lack definitive characteristics; they are essentially empty shells. An uneasiness of humanity reflects Kalman’s loss of self as she struggled to cope with her mother’s death. The Invisible series, like Kalman’s previous Sometimes (memory version), depicts both the fear of fading memories and the acceptance of a loss of physical presence.

From the series’ surrealism can be drawn its uncanny nature. The uncanny is defined as an innate sense of estrangement, an indefinable feeling which regards the reality of something definable. Freud, in The Uncanny refers to “…certain things which lie within the field of what is frightening”. Uncanny objects and subjects evoke a sense of anxiety and fear. Some people are more affected by this than others. The concept of death is ambiguous to humans and, because of this, it perplexes. It is unknown and, therefore, uncanny. Our mortality defeats us; it is an alien part of our existence. Thinking about or experiencing death leaves us feeling void and fearful.

In a way, Kalman’s Invisible also echoes 19th century spirit photography. First introduced by William H. Mumler, spirit photography was created by double exposing negatives, the effect of which was the creation of a haunting representation of human figures, fading, resembling ghosts and reinforcing ideas of the afterlife. Kalman’s subjects aren’t intended to be perceived as ghosts, but this does not stop their phantasmal presence.

Some of the headless subjects draw parallels to sculpture; they are rigid, stopped still in the frame, further calling death and dead figurative imagery to mind. The uncanny is drawn out when something’s state of living is ambiguous. Kalman’s subjects are neither – they simply exist in a distant realm between memory and the present, where they can be considered as both alive and dead.

Jordanna Kalman is an analogue photographer; she studied at University of the Arts London and now resides in New York.

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