Art Inspection

The Eroticism of the Unseen: The Art of Eva Stenram

In her Drape series, Swedish-born, London-based artist Eva Stenram reclaims and re-composes vintage erotica, hiding the naughty bits behind curtains and shifting the gaze to the domestic interiors. A selection from the series now fills our ad space in various independent publications. Ms. Stenram was in New York recently and gave us a peek behind the curtain

When did you decide to become an artist?
I don't quite remember. It wasn't one of those revelations. I think I just gradually slipped into art as that seemed to be the most interesting thing around.

Were you thinking about the male gaze when you made this series?
Yes, certainly. I was thinking about the male gaze in relation to the original pin-up image in terms of how it was taken and distributed. I then tried to divert and redirect my viewers’ gaze by covering up (most of) the female models’ bodies.

Tell us about these pin-ups. Were they part of erotica magazines?
Well, there are different sources. I've collected a lot of pin-up images—mainly I’ve bought my material online. Some of these source images are direct scans from 1960s erotica magazines and others I bought directly as negatives. In this case I have no information about the photographer, the model, what year they were taken or what they were used for. I am presuming they were used for magazines, but I don't know if they were used in the magazine in the end or if they are just detritus, the stuff that didn't get used. So the original image is often a bit of a mystery.

Is this kind of stuff just on eBay? Yeah, there is a huge amount of erotica traded online. You can get anything on eBay. When I was searching for images to use, I was interested specifically in vintage images that were set within domestic interiors or in sets that looked like they were referencing a domestic situation. The pictures had to have a curtain or drape behind the model, which I then simply used to cover up the main point of interest within the picture. So this thick drape becomes a blocker or screen within the image, like a photographic shutter or strip tease curtain. It begins a play between what is public and what is private.

"Drape (Print 1)", 2014 by Eva Stenram 
Do you think that actually heightens the eroticism?
I think it definitely heightens the eroticism. Usually what you can't see is far more exciting than what you can see. Often in my work I am interested in the viewers' imagination and how the viewer, to some extent, completes the picture. I'm interested in looking really closely—in triggering curiosity. Because I use others’ work to make my own work, I'm interested in my own relationship to the photograph. So it's kind of about us being viewers and investigating that relationship of us looking at stuff and trying to change that in several ways.

What does the female figure represent in your works?
I was interested in the female figure particularly in these '60s/late '60s vintage pictures set in a domestic landscape. This was really a time when women were breaking free from the domestic environment and going out into society in a totally new way. Yet in these pin-up images, the woman's body is back inside the domestic space so I was interested I suppose in how men still desired to see the woman sexualized within the domestic space at this time. And then the erotic images of the '70s are really different... It becomes all about shoots on the beach.
You asked whether it heightens the eroticism or not and I think to block out most of the model is both to heighten what is left of her, the eroticism of what is left of her, but also to heighten our understanding of the surroundings that set the fantasy. So suddenly we pay attention to the surrounding picture in a totally different way. When we look at the original image we are instantly looking at the model's face and breasts and the background slips in unconsciously, but we're not so aware of it ... changing the pecking order produces new awareness.

Are you looking for anything particular in your interiors?
I go through a lot of images. A lot. And it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that draws me to the aesthetics of the rooms that I use. I need background drapery though.

Did your Swedish upbringing have anything to do with it?
I mean, I guess all clichés have some truth to them so if you think of some Swedish qualities like silence or simplicity, I suppose when I rework photographs I simplify and mute them in some way. But it's not something I've consciously gone for.  



Drape (Cavalcade VIII)

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