Anna Uddenberg at The Perimeter

Is 'sexy' a state of mind or body?

The act of being seen is a deeply performative one, whether or not we sense it consciously. For instance, how many people with a regular and high following on social media are continuously their authentic selves? Is such a practice even possible? Being oneself is now a career option, in theory, in the case of influencers, but how do we know when we have lost control of our authenticity and our autonomy? There are clear and violent cases of these losses, flowing through the social, cultural, political and criminal, but the more insidious ways in which autonomy ebbs away is of interest.

The depiction of women's bodies in contemporary art is becoming increasingly anonymised, I have observed. With avatars, emojis and AI playing such a huge role in our online lives, it is interesting when bodies are either obscured to the point of abstraction, or, as is the case with Swedish artist Anna Uddenberg, faceless. While Uddenberg's work is not directly about violence, the witnessing of the artist's constructed "female" sculptures feels intrusive, and makes our role as an audience uncomfortable; we feel complicit to something, and it takes some unpacking to figure out what that is. At Uddenberg's solo exhibition HOME WRECKERS at The Perimeter, I have never felt so acutely aware of being A Viewer of an artwork, and it is rather alienating! 

Installation view, Anna Uddenberg’s HOME WRECKERS at The Perimeter, London. Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin. Photo: Stephen James.

HOME WRECKERS is an exhibition that is, ultimately, centred around the viewer. These works push the link between femininity and consumption to their apex; both driven forcibly by the steamroll of capitalism. To be sure, sexuality and femininity are constantly in dialogue with each other, whether it is men's desire for feminine women who stay in their lane, or lesbians feeling the need to bolster or tone down their femininity so as to live up to stereotypes or heteronormative aesthetics, or non-binary people's identities not being respected due to looking femme. Uddenberg's women do not bring with them any stories or contexts, instead they are a body to be observed and nothing else: no utility value and no personality, but the satisfying element very much derives from their production value as opposed to who, or what, they might be representing. 

Despite little interest in what they might represent beyond their explicitly marketable sexuality, the viewer is still front and centre. It would be disempowering to women to suggest that the application of makeup bears a similar story, but there is certainly a balance between makeup as art form and self-empowerment tool and a shield for the outside world. In contrast, HOME WRECKERS sees women's faces entirely covered. This is not adopting a stance of humility, instead giving the viewer a sick permission to assess the bodies however we choose. This is what I was referring to with the alienating experience of viewership; I found myself thinking "what right do I have to be looking in this way?", almost as if the sculptures were real people.

The Perimeter is an impressive, sleek, three-storey building down a quiet cobbled street in Bloomsbury, central London. Having opened relatively recently in 2018, the gallery is immaculate, which is supported by its rather exclusive pre-requisite of being appointment-only. At the time of writing, no appointments are available for the next month, so the show remains a hot ticket. Although the works are displayed throughout the building, they are not packed in; there is ample room to walk around them, which is often uncomfortable given the provocative positions they have been sculpted into. There is a perfectly formed, but ultimately un-human, arse or tit at every angle, and I was embarrassed to have felt so de-feminised. Comparisons to real women are surely inevitable, as a voice in my head asked: "Should I look like that? Should my body be doing that?"


Anna Uddenberg, Tanya, 2021. Polylactic acid, styrofoam, acrylic resin, fiberglass, epoxy, steel, vinyl, leather, pleather, cotton fabric, polyester, synthetic hair, acrylic nails, stroller, crocs; 89cm x 157cm x 95cm. Courtesy the Artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.

I'm no therapist, but I imagine it best to stymie the thought that leads to those questions, post-haste. The idea of women "having it all" is a recurring one here, and the premise is semi-comical these days as an anachronistic feminist energy from the Sex and the City days (all despite a very contemporary current backdrop of people seemingly having and doing "it all" on social media). 'Tanya', a sculpture that greets the viewer when they enter the gallery, depicts a moderately contorted figure (which is a motif in HOME WRECKERS) in a high-fashion outfit, leaning down beneath a pushchair structure, unburdened by a child, all the while wearing Crocs with a pointed heel. The contradicting expectations of being immaculately presented whilst undertaking caring responsibilities is comically shown here by our friend Tanya, not least due to the heeled Croc. The lack of child also begins to paint the picture of Woman as Consumerist Pleasure Object, with the contorted body parts cleverly mirrored by the mechanism of the pushchair. 

The faceless motif of Uddenberg's figures is disturbing, despite this feature (or lack thereof) being utilised increasingly in contemporary art. However close we get to their bodies, they can neither look back nor react. The similarities to the 'Sex-Doll' are hard to lose sight of. The artist hones in on the absurdity of "the sexualisation of the female form in advertisements for domestic items such as sofas, prams and even for laundry detergent", making the age-old association of femininity and domesticity through a vaguely unnerving isolation of women's bodies. 

Anna Uddenberg, Reboot, 2021. Polyurethane foam, acrylic resin, fiberglass, lime wood, nylon powder, photopolymer resin, leather rope, sponge towel, fishing rod, Crocs; 160cm x 140cm x 145cm. Courtesy the Artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.

Uddenberg's work seemed vaguely familiar to me prior to my visiting the show, and upon entering the video screening space at The Perimeter I realised I had seen a series of the artist's "usable" sculptures activated in a performance piece during her solo exhibition Fake-Estate at Schinkel Pavilion in Berlin last year. One film depicts these sculptures being used as frameworks to hold participants in for seemingly uncomfortable periods of time. The artist has said about her practice, "instead of representing something, I want to trigger something so that it becomes real in a way,” which is a relief as there is certainly space for interpretation in the film works. Unnecessary pains and strains inflicted on women are alluded to throughout; the glossy façade of not only the gallery space but the flawless execution of the sculptures and their fashion credentials (three sculptures were originally produced for a Balenciaga x Crocs campaign in 2021) illustrate the ways in which women's pains (not only in the physical sense) are still socially preferential when they are ignored, and masked over with flawless make-up and a winning smile.

Installation view: Anna Uddenberg, Fake-Estate, 15 September 2022 - 22 January 2023. Schinkel Pavilion, Berlin. Image courtesy of Schinkel Pavilion.

HOME WRECKERS, a solo exhibition by Anna Uddenberg. 6 October - 22 December 2023. The Perimeter, London.

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