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  • Writer's pictureThe Debutante

The Avant-Garde Indoors: A Lockdown Tribute to Francesca Woodman

During my lockdown, I am drawn to revisit Francesca Woodman’s House Series (1976). I live alone. Before lockdown, this was a joy; I relished telling people this fact, watching their brows knit as their brain spins like a fruit machine: 24-year-old woman, lives alone, free to dance around naked. A winning combination. During my lockdown, I am no longer the master of my own home.

On my laptop, I open up Google to look through images of Woodman's self-portraiture, in which she used the domestic setting as her stage to act as both photographer and her own model. Looking at Woodman’s House Series, I feel a dual pang of inspiration and guilt. On my phone, I open up Instagram. My feed is inundated with amateur recreations of old masters; people I’ve never met in real life are now terrible versions of Frida Kahlo, the gaps between their brows filled in with black marker pen, cradling toilet roll. Someone else has taken a birds-eye view shot of their flatmate wrapped in a brown towel on the floor, their legs poised like a teapot spout, as to mimic Rene Magritte’s ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’. Everyone says FOMO is now dead, but I have Fear Of Not Contributing Anything Worthwhile (FONCAW) during lockdown. FOMO is not dead, it’s dormant, and we’re all still performing.

I consider running to the shop to hunt for a really long butternut squash to recreate Louise Bourgeois’ outrageously cheeky portrait with Fillette. And I do, just to feel something:

Likes pour in, and I’m engulfed by a wave of validation of the cheapest kind. The likes do not quieten the radio’s hourly update about Britain’s death toll.

On Twitter, my followers’ preferred adjective is “surreal” – not “unprecedented” – to describe our collective realisation that we are not invincible. Our illusion of control has been pulled from under our feet, and we’re trying to capture it in 280 characters. Death and grief, previously discussed only when utterly unavoidable, has become an everyday topic of conversation. While my trivial plans for the future are laid to rest, I struggle to move beyond this new lexicon of panic-buying, social-distancing, and self-isolation.

I follow a dancer on Instagram who is spending her respective lockdown in Paris paying homage to Woodman. She goes by the title @lxchxp, and sliding into her DMs, she tells me that she isn’t experiencing cabin fever like I am. Even before the lockdown, she led a confined lifestyle, choosing to stay at home to be freed from sensory annoyances. Hypersensitive to noise, @lxchxp lives next door to her dance school to avoid the distress crowds and public transport cause her. @lxchxp isn’t phased by the closure of bars at all, preferring to socialise in quiet spaces. During her lockdown, @lxchxp is freed from the shame of leading a quarantine lifestyle, as it’s now more shameful to socialise than stay inside. In conversation with @lxchxp, she tells me that isolation “is not a deprivation of liberty, but an opening towards new perspectives”, and I come to the realisation that being indoors requires an inward strength which many of us don’t have:

While confined indoors in your respective lockdown, your home is currently your stage. Can you tell me a bit about this domestic setting and your relationship with it?

I am happy at home. It is a calm and reassuring place - like a protective bubble. To take my photos, I go to the aging stairwell of my building as all the neighbours left the premises at the start of the lockdown. I like to appropriate this ordinarily neutral space and transform it with the props Woodman used in her own portraiture (like the mirror or dried flowers).

What is your photographic method?

Like Woodman, I act as both photographer and my own model. I use my naked, or partially naked, body to occupy a phantom like role in my self-portaiture. The images on my Instagram are self-portraits taken with my phone in selfie mode, allowing me to control the image in real time and adapt my pose and movement for optimum effect. For dynamic photos, I set the self-timer to 2 seconds and I was rushing to enter the frame. Then, to mimic the aged affect of Woodman’s photography, I use the “willow” feature on Instagram. Encouraged by loved ones, I have chosen to slacken my usual privacy by changing the setting of my Instagram to public during the pandemic.

Why are you currently drawn to recreate the works of Woodman? Has the global crisis influenced you to create these ghostly photographs?

If the crisis has influenced me, it is paradoxically. It has offered me tranquillity, and the opportunity to dedicate my spare time to recreating Woodman’s indoor photography. I am still very sad for the victims of Covid-19 and their relatives, and I feel guilty for being happy in this context. This is probably why I sought to embody an angel in my photographs (because it is an angel - not a ghost). The angel is the messenger, the intermediary between man and the divine; Life and death. It brings light into death. I think that is what I wanted to be and to transmit through these pictures: hope and poetry.

Words by Rachel Ashenden


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