Sometimes subverting things means saturating them, and embracing the idea of the body as object was another key gesture in the New York art scene in the 1980s. Fusing American suburbia and Queer fetish subculture, the prolific photographer Jimmy DeSana, who died in 1990 at the age of 40 from AIDS related illness, created playfully kinky images of men and women (the gender isn’t important), along with everyday household items including storage boxes and coat hangers. With their lurid lighting and unlikely combinations – two lots of pale legs poking out of a gym bag, a strategically positioned high-heeled shoe within an otherwise sheer pair of tights – DeSana created surprising assemblages of people, animals, and objects reminiscent of the Surrealist exquisite corpse.
Sanam Khatibi inserts nude figures into hostile environments too. Inspired by the mystifying and hypnotic works of Hieronymus Bosch, the Belgian artist, whose practice encompasses painting, tapestry, and sculpture, presents stark, unfussy figures engaging in violent and sexual acts in fantastical settings. A far cry from the passive female subjects painted in opulent interiors by Titian et al, Khatibi’s pale-skinned people are let loose into the wild, where they slaughter and skin rabbits, urinate, and wander about with hearts and snakes in their hands. Among the exotic flora and fauna are crocodiles, dogs and deer, a nod to the characters’ primal instincts, and small and delicate still lives of porcelain and skulls that allude to pagan offerings and sacrifices. Stripped bare, the figures symbolize a state of being that’s free and feral.