What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

March 10, 2022

Iiu Susiraja
Women's Work
Nino Mier Gallery
February 18 - March 19, 2022

Iiu Susiraja

What is it about the human body that attracts and repels us? Throughout art and photo history, artists have looked in the mirror, as well as turned the camera on themselves to document their bodies. They marvel at its beauty and examin what is ugly, perverse, or even unusual about their physical forms. Artists that have painted nude self portraits include Lucien Freud, Egon Schiele and Jenny Saville, while the photographers John Coplans, Cathy Opie and Laura Aguliar have also scrutinized their bodies. Coplans (1920-2003) made black and white images that focused on his aging, often cropping the torso into different sections in unusualy and disconcerting ways. Aguilar (1959-2018) depicted her large naked body in relation to textured rocks and trees in the landscape. In her evocative images, she depicted here form in relation to the natural world. Aguilar also created confessional videos where she discussed what it was like to be overweight. The directness of these works exposed her vulnerability, yet also empowered her. Like Aguilar and Coplans, Finnish photographer Iiu Susiraja turns the camera on herself, making both short videos and photographs where she stares blankly at the camera in less than innocent poses.

Susiraja is extremely overweight and she presents her large figure as both subject and object in many of her works. Her body is the centerpiece in Women's Work, a series of self-portraits that explore her physical presence as well as her sensuality and sexuality in offbeat and uncanny scenarios. The five videos and eight photographs that comprise the exhibition present Susiraja in revealing and provocative outfits and poses while interacting with innocuous household tools and objects. For the videos (all between one and three minutes long and presented on small tablets), Susiraja performs in the kitchen, bedroom or living room in unexpected and disturbing ways. In the photographs, she is often spread eagled on a bed, depicted with large stuffed animals or food items between her legs or against her breasts.

John Wayne (2020) is a 27 second video in which Susiraja, dressed in a purple and black bathing suit stands in a kitchen weilding two cordless drills topped with raw hot dogs. She holds the tools in the ready position like guns and pulls the triggers until the limp hot dogs fall to the floor. In Play with me 2 (Red Car), (2018) she sits with her legs apart on a twin-sized bed wearing a black slip and letting her underwear show. She caresses her head and body with a red toy car, running the object up and down across her upper body and finally into her groin. Baguette (2020) takes place in the kitchen. Here, she takes a baguette from the counter and places it between her legs. She then looks at the camera before smearing it with butter, breaking a piece off and stuffing it into her mouth. She continues to stand there gazing at the camera as she finishes eating the piece as if this was an ordinary occurrence. Finally, she waddles toward the camera with the remainder of the bread still between her legs. The phallic nature of the baguette (and Susiraja's ignoring of this fact) are what gives the video its intrigue and strangeness.

In Zoo (all photographs 2021) Susiraja is pictured with a multi-colored lollypop held against one exposed breast that sticks out of her red top, positioned as if she was feeding a child. Between her legs is the large head of a teddy bear whose decapitated body is placed on the bed to Susiraja's left. In Fountain, her obese body is stretched across the diagonal of what appears to be the same bed with a different colored sheet. An open, upside down, transparent umbrella filled with yellow rubber ducks sits between her upper thighs and crotch. Her bulging thighs and big belly are revealed as her blue top is raised up to just below her breasts. One arm is extended, the other is propped across her chest. She gazes out at the viewer nonplussed. For Road Trip, she wears a green housecoat and places two toilet plungers over her breasts. Spaghetti and meatballs are piled over a large globe that is nested in her magenta underwear and pulled down just below her knees.

Though suggestive, these images are more repulsive than inviting as in Meat Model 2 (2020), she holds packaged meat as she fondles her breast. They subvert traditional depictions of the seductress, who in this case is neither empowered, nor vulnerable. If the images are about control, Susiraja is in charge. She teases and feigns innocence and mocks the viewer, as the images are indeed loaded with self confidence. It is hard to look away from the pictures and videos as the actions have a slapstick humor reminssent of Laurel and Hardy, yet whether Susiraja ultimately wants to be seen as a victim of her own circumstances (eating too much is what makes fat people fat) remains ambiguous. Susiraja's works are abject and need to be looked at in relation to other artists who have celebrated difference, as well as explored the debasement of the human body— be it their own or that of another. Her contradictory messages about agency remain to be deciphered.