Not on display
- Anna Gaskell born 1969
- Photograph, C-print on paper mounted on aluminium
- Image: 310 × 603 mm
- Presented by the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection (Tate Americas Foundation) 2015
On long term loan
Untitled #39 1998 is a colour C-print photograph from the series Hide 1998. The picture is dominated by the soles of a prostrate figure’s feet. The body lies on a wooden surface with beveled edges and the camera is positioned looking down the table, so that the figure’s legs recede into the background and the rest of the body is obscured. The series, which is typical of American photographer Anna Gaskell’s work, comprises several images, each of which differs significantly in scale. Tate’s collection includes a selection of works from this series, all dating from 1998: Untitled #33 (Tate P11571), Untitled #34 (Tate L03794), Untitled #36 (Tate L03795), Untitled #42 (Tate L03797), Untitled #45 (Tate L03798), Untitled #46 (Tate P11572) and Untitled #47 (Tate P11573). The works can be shown individually or as a single wall installation, with the photographs hung at different heights and intervals to create an asymmetrical cluster of images. The series title Hide refers both to the children’s game hide-and-seek and to the split personality of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; it could also refer to the skin or ‘hide’ of an animal or to a camouflaged shelter. It is therefore suggestive of secrecy, fantasy and intrigue – a reading which is supported by the ambiguous subject matter, dramatic lighting and unusual cropping of Gaskell’s photographs.
Folk stories play a key role in Gaskell’s work and are often used as a starting point from which to explore her own experiences through the fictional characters she appropriates. She has explained, ‘I had these personal stories that I wanted to tell. So I thought I’d have someone play a familiar character and then I could twist that, combine it with things related to it, and I’d be telling a completely different story.’ (Quoted in David Hay, ‘ART/ARCHITECTURE; Photographs on a Wall, Doors to a Haunted Manor’, New York Times, 29 September 2002, https://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/29/books/art-architecture-photographs-on-a-wall-doors-to-a-haunted-manor.html, accessed 23 April 2018.) Among its other references, the genesis for Hide was the French fairytale ‘Donkeyskin’ written in 1695 by Charles Perrault, a story about a girl who makes a costume from animal hides in order to escape the advances of her father. Gaskell expanded on the story, creating her own narratives. Her images depict teenage girls alone in a gothic-style mansion, dressed in white tights and cotton nightshirts and posed in staged scenarios. The dark, nocturnal setting and white clothing reproduce the atmosphere of a Victorian ghost story, creating a sense of dread and an underlying sexual charge.
Gaskell studied at the Yale School of Art under the American photographer Gregory Crewdson, who is known for his photographs of elaborately constructed stage sets mimicking the homes and environments of suburban America. Hide is typical of Gaskell’s practice of working in series, creating ambiguous narratives that draw on the history of staged photography and in turn the history of cinema. She borrows several cinematic techniques to portray her narratives, including theatrical costume and strong, staged lighting. By presenting images that are dramatically cropped or taken from extreme angles, she conveys the sense that only part of the story is being witnessed, with the rest of the action taking place off-camera. This fragmented appearance creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, suggesting that there might be several narratives unfolding at the same time. As a result, although Hide succeeds in recreating the dramatic tension associated with horror or ghost story genres, the narrative is never resolved and the viewer is left to construct their own interpretation.
Nancy Spector, ‘The Fiction of Fiction: An Exquisite Unease’, in Anna Gaskell, New York 2001.
Matthew Drutt, Anna Gaskell: Half Life, exhibition catalogue, Menil Collection, Houston 2007.
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