Sophie Thun’s photographs inquire into the conventions governing the representation of the female body and the construction of the self, examining the interdependence between the illusionary space of the picture and the real space of the viewer. Most of her works depict the artist herself, visualizing the relationship she defines between her body and the space around her. Her pictures always also render the photographic process visible. Experimenting with photograms, double exposures, and analog montage techniques, the artist addresses the medium’s mechanics as well as the habits of seeing bound up with them.
The site-specific photographic intervention While Holding (passage closed) (Y110,8M17,4D+59F8m18,142CA3T69,2b100i240) (2018) exemplifies the complexity of Thun’s art. Loosely affixed to the wall, the photograph is a life-size depiction of the artist holding a photograph that in turn shows her striking a similar pose. The work hints at discourses of illusionism and copy and original that also inform the representation of the specific space: Thun makes the site of its exhibition the point of departure for her production, letting the gallery setting appears in its double function as a scene of creation and presentation. The nested and multiple self-portrait establishes a multifaceted interplay between space, body, and representation.
One defining characteristic of Thun’s self-portraits is that she is holding her camera’s cable release in hand. The deliberate inclusion of the equipment reads as a trace of the creative process, but it also represents an instrument of control. By underscoring her active involvement in the genesis of the picture and subverting the history of the depiction of the (naked) female body as an object, Thun engenders a moment of resistance. This aspect is evident, for example, in her most recent series, After Hours (2019), which is based on pictures Thun shot at her lodgings while traveling for various bread-and-butter jobs. For the elaborate compositions, she cuts up the negatives of two shots and then reassembles them in such fashion that the poses they capture relate to each other. The flagrant sexual overtones are intentional, yet the objectification of the female body and the potential for voyeuristic cathexis are defeated by the artist’s recognizable self-determination and the assertive gaze with which she fixes the beholder. Thun adds to the tension between these contrary tendencies by superimposing the white silhouettes of her hands, a framing visual layer that inserts itself between the poses on display and the viewer and performs a gesture between desiring caress and insistence on distance.