Selected Works by Thomas Mailaender at The Saatchi Gallery
Never judge a book by its cover. is an old adage that comes to mind when viewing the set of photographs by French artist Thomas Mailaender that are currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery. Mailaender’s photos show a series of bodies that are either nude or almost nude. The photos serve as a metaphor for our appearances not being who we really are, and that what you see is just skin.
The bodies pictured have red raw patches on them, with separate photos printed onto their skin. The photos on their skin show portraits of other people and various scenes. Presumably these pictures on the skin stand for family members, scenes and memories in a person’s life that make up our environmental development and form our personalities, making each person unique beneath the skin on the surface. Our bodies are just shells and everyone has one, but it’s what inside that makes us each unique. However, we can not see what is inside each person, what makes the individual, without it bring printed onto our skins, and so we judge, which is what the series of photos ‘Illustrated People’ conveys.
Also on display are Mailaender’s cyanotype photographs, which are printed onto huge pieces of plaster board and propped up around the room. Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue tint on the photos. The process was originally used as a cost effective way of printings drawings, often known as blueprints. Once again, the theme of appearance is visited, as the use of such a method could be purely aesthetic, or it could be a way of taking any complex detail and colour away from the photograph’s appearance to only show the importance of the photograph’s subject.
‘Highway Thunder (Is Kippenberger Alive???)’ shows a cyanotype print of a semi-nude man standing next to a highway while a lightening storm occurs in the background. The scene is very set, and not exactly open to the viewer’s interpretation but prompted by the title, one is left pondering the outcome of the scene:
What happened to the man? (Presumably named Kippenberger.)
Was he struck by the lightening?
Did he make it away/home safely?
Is he alive?
The photograph offers the viewer an opportunity to create their own ending to the frozen story, ‘Highway Thunder’.
All of Mailaender’s cyanotype photographs tell only one part of a story, allowing the viewer to create their own questions and answers. ‘Black Eye’ features a young woman, posing with a smile on her face, a seemingly normal photograph of a young woman, until the viewer notices the bruising around her eye.
Again, this photograph opens up a world of questions for the viewer:
How did she get her black eye?
Was she abused?
Was it an accident?
Why is she smiling with her eye covered in bruises?
The photograph brings many questions to life, and yet answers none. The viewer is left to create their own answers and ending for this girl.
This exhibition is an incredibly potent eye-opener to the relationship between appearance and judgement, making it a highly interactive and thought-provoking experience for all who visit.
The works by Thomas Mailaender are on display as part of the ICONOCLASTS: ART OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery, on show until 7th January 2018. More information may be found here.