Stefanie Moshammer’s “Not just your face honey” documents a narrative of infatuation. Through a series of photographs, Moshammer aims to discover more about the “sinister stranger” who arrived, completely by chance, on her doorstep. Using images captured from real life and some produced from her own imagination, she powerfully explores the fine line between romance and delusion, love and obsession.
Upon first entering the exhibition, I got taken up by the swell of the romance of it all. A guy named Troy travels across the continent to say hello to his ex and, upon opening the door to you, falls instantly in love, “not just with your face”, but with “your heart”. He sends a letter declaring his love for you, describing how his life has led up to this moment and how he couldn’t possibly forget the “honey” that he saw filling up the doorframe like a portrait. What more could a girl want?
C/O Berlin, in their accompanying press release, describe this story as a “bizarre declaration of love from a stranger”, a “fleeting, banal encounter” that lasted no longer than five minutes. Moshammer’s exhibition is a visual curation of this encounter – a story only images could capture. She aims throughout the exhibition to “answer his image of her with her image of him”.
To me, however, it seemed more like the staging of an inquisition. One of the most striking examples of this was the display of Troy’s letter in three different forms. Each time the letter was further zoomed in, the words became clearer on the page. It felt to me like Moshammer was questioning how we would handle such a powerful declaration of love, or perhaps whether it was ever “love” at all.
As individuals who are all susceptible to the daily deluge of romantic culture, Moshammer’s exhibition questioned whether romance of the kind she experienced, the kind that we see in movies, is really what we desire. The image of a gas station and a Motel – a literal emblem of Moshammer’s journey across state lines to learn more about the stranger who sought to steal her heart – was particularly powerful to this end. In scenes of American romance films, the Motel is iconic – a stop off point for travellers, a temporary love nest – perhaps even an imagined life where all you know is the road.
Using phrases from Troy’s letter to form themes or ideas for each image, Moshammer gives them new power by isolating them. The line “the almost new special car to feel special and appreciated” for example, (taken from Troy’s promise to buy her a new motor if only she would come back to live with him) seemed on the surface to be a man’s humble bargain for affection. But after dwelling on it a little longer, the words take on a sinister quality. This kind of monetary exchange sounded something like prostitution: the giving of oneself for money or possessions. Was this, in Moshammer’s eyes, the ultimate promise of comfortable living, or ownership?
An image of perfectly arranged postage stamps – their neat rows obstructed by an image of a naked woman packaged in bubble wrap as if for sale – seemed to confirm this idea.
As I continued round the exhibition, I couldn’t help but feel like Troy was trying to silence Moshammer with promises of the perfect life. Troy spoke assertively, not speculatively, in his letter, almost removing her ability to reply. I began to understand Moshammer’s photographs as a visual answer to his letter. Her images became her agency.
Through images of suburbia and domesticity, possessions become conflated with affection. An image of a hotel room and a perfectly laid out bed placed next to each other seemed sinister in their simplicity. I thought of the typical budget hotel bed sheets, steamed stiff with starch, that were strict and imprisoning, unable to be moulded to the body. This seemed the perfect metaphor for what Moshammer thought of a life with Troy. Below the caption read, “Happily married, or want out”.
Pictures of the landscape, seemingly desolate and infertile, were juxtaposed with images of supposed happiness and unity: a demonstration of the fine line between dreams and reality; the discrepancy between what we are told we should want, and what we actually want.
Towards the end of my visit, I thought back to the picture of a woman with her face blurred out that I had breezed by at the start of the exhibition. Perhaps it was Moshammer’s own identity that she was uncertain about. Perhaps Troy had unearthed uncertainties within her about her own dreams and desires.
Another interesting element of the exhibition was the fact that each accompanying title could not directly explain what was going on in each image. It occurred to me that sometimes words are inadequate to convey experience. At times, we need demonstrable evidence. I enjoyed the gap that was left between words and images, feeling that, like Moshammer, I too was having to piece together fragments of a puzzle to form meaning.
A title reading “Duck Sick” caught my eye. It accompanied a picture of an old school motor with “Suck Dick” elegantly printed onto the back of its bumper. A perfectly contrived image, perhaps, of Moshammer’s rebellion against Troy’s offering and an assertion of her own power and identity. His perfect aesthetic arrangement from a movie: the car, the house, the woman, wouldn’t ever, it seemed, quite make the cut.
“Not just your face honey” is on show at the C/O gallery until 23rd September 2018.