The Body and its Paradoxes | Niura Legramante Ribeiro

THE BODY AND ITS PARADOXES: dichotomies, unfamiliarity and created identities

Niura Legramante Ribeiro1

 Juxtapositions of paradoxes between image and word: Body and Rock Project

The body, books and rock. Silvia Giordani’s photographic work proposes extracting visual and conceptual associations from among these three elements. The ideas stimulating malleable perceptions are based on issues regarding the body and physical, scientific and cultural identity, self-portraits, collections, repetition, text and image.

For the series of work in the project, Body and Rock,  one could ask where the body is or to which bodies the work alludes. In certain pieces, what one sees is not a physical body, but a body referenced by scientific knowledge, a body referred to from the point of view of its medical health. Using juxtaposition, the artist intersperses the spines of slabs of rock with the spines of books, whose titles clearly display their respective medical identities. The photographic images of books arranged in the form of a bookshelf, in the piece, Skin and Rock 3, 2010, present the idea of the body according to the possibilities of medical treatment. The choice of a collection of books about dermatology refers directly to the skin as the body’s covering, which, associated with rock, can create many antinomies. From the beginning, the idea of the contradiction of principles is implicit.

In Flesh and Rock 2,2 2008, text and image create meanings as regards theory and form. The association between skin and rock is made by the titles of books, which are visible due to the close framing and the sharpness of the images: Cliniques Dermatologiques, La Pratique Dermatologique, Maladies de la Peau and Enfermidad de la Piel y Sexuales. These names therefore set out medicinal treatments for the body, which are contrasted with the image of raw, untreated and unpolished stone. Skin and rock, a paradox? The conceptual association does not fail to produce a contrast of disparities as to their natural states, between sensitive and insensitive, smooth and coarse, hot and cold, softness and hardness, perishable and imperishable, and fragility and solidity, among others. However, is there any similarity between these elements which are so disparate? Faced with such contrasts, one could also think about what they resemble as surfaces. Time leaves its incisions and marks on the body from moments lived. On rock, times leaves, for example, deposits from hostile weather. Both are contact surfaces bearing the inscriptions of time lapsed, of their relation with the world and of what goes on around them.

In What One Shouldn’t Say, 2010, books with aged appearances, marked by the passage of time or who knows, by out-dated knowledge, are stacked in horizontal layers and are together with slabs of basalt. The latter are only perceived by looking carefully, because the artist conceals their presence, by simulating similarly aged tones and textures. The colouring of the edges of the pages of the books and of the rock surfaces looks like it has been retrieved from some place in the past. On both the books and rock, one can find equivalencies in terms of thickness, dishevelled and stained sides, battered aspects, cuts and close frames which evoke the appearance of weight in the represented images. The textual associations, which the artist makes in her choices to juxtapose the titles of the publications, reinforce the meaning of the images and create, once again, a paradoxical situation. What One Shouldn’t Say, the title of the book and of the work, shares the same space in the piece with a Dictionary. If on the one hand “one shouldn’t say,” on the other there is the reference to a collection of meanings which one can look up when one wants to understand what exactly the words mean. This paradoxical unfamiliarity occurs, therefore, between the negation and the possibility of knowledge.

Is what one notes in specific works by the artist the possibility of equivalence between body and rock or is it a body of rock? This seems to be evident in No Title, 2008, in making the spine of a rock look like the spine of a book. With the book, Tratado de Radiologia [Treatise on Radiology], the artist juxtaposes the spine of a slab of basalt rock of the same thickness and writes the book title on the spine of the rock. If it were not for the uneven surfaces of rock, which allow one to envision the respective procedure, it could be a book of rock. It is significant that the artist chose to juxtapose a rock, with its opaque and impenetrable surface, with a book on radiology, by nature involving x-rays, which enable one to see the inside, the transparency of the body. As such, her works in this series are permeated by paradoxes, which encourage the viewer to think about associations, which, in a certain way, are symbolically incompatible. Furthermore, in this work, there is an allusion to the female body as indicated by the titles of the books, Cirurgia Ginecológica e Lições de Clínica Obstétrica [Gynaecological Surgery and Lessons from Obstetrics], which, based on the overlaying of the volumes, may evoke further the idea of accumulated knowledge.

The visual and conceptual emphasis on the medical area, recurring in various works, is the result of collections belonging to her family’s library and the artist’s own education. The piece, Self-Portrait, 2009, maps her professional trajectory in the area of health care and visual arts. As in other photographs, Giordani proceeds on the basis of image associations, this time between her physical portrait and publications from the history of art and psychoanalysis which form a collection of memories which demonstrate her cultural identity. Intellect and psyche, both regarding art and psychoanalysis, can summarise the conception of her own identity. The imposing front of the artist’s face in her portrait, together with the arrangement of the books in blocks, separated by subjects on psychoanalysis and art, as in a catalogue, enable one to get a perspective of identity grounded in the rationality of principles. The body as well as scientific and cultural knowledge form her identity.

The body, the mirror and the camera: the creation of identities in the Constructions Project

The photographic works of Giordani, undertaken as part of the Constructions Project, 20103, deal with the relationship between the body and the creation of identities. The project consisted of photographing people looking at each other in mirrors in order to see up what point they could arrange their poses so as to find their best image. As I pointed out in the text, Ficções Fisionômicas? [Fictions regarding Facial Features], 2011, which I wrote for the group of the Constructions Project, the people faced a double challenge, which was that of comparing two objectives of desire – the mirror and the photographic camera. People know that while a mirror provides a fleeting image, a camera produces a record which immortalises the image of a portrait. The fact of knowing that one is posing for a camera makes it impossible to appear natural: “a photographic portrait is the image of someone who knows that they are taking a picture” (Richard Avedon as cited by EWING, 2008, p. 29). It is this awareness that stimulates a certain posture of the body in front of a photographic camera, intensified further by the presence of the mirror as an object of seduction. What the images demonstrate is attitudes regarding the control of facial expressions and body language or their extreme, such as a theatrical construction of attitudes. As such, her photographs in this project display behaviour which goes from the most serious to the most exaggerated. Both extremes seem to conceal certain individualities.

The close-up framing of the faces of the people in the mirror creates a direct parallel with their gaze. In some cases the artist chops the faces in a close-up view, sometimes only showing one of the eyes, which seems to want to capture the human soul in vain. Possibly, bringing the lens up close to the faces is an attempt by the artist to capture the escape routes of the face as mentioned by Georges Bataille 1944 (as cited by EWING, 2008, p. 52): “in the human face, there is an infinity of turns, curves and escape routes.” In specific portraits, the marks of accidents imprinted on the skin over time are also visible: “the more I age, the more my skin seems to tell others who I am” (JEUDY, 2002, p. 89). The human face, as to its physical appearance, is a map which develops progressively and records the territories of trajectories experienced.

Other portraits seek the opposite of this vision which focuses on the mirror, by capturing a profile view of people far the mirror. Here not even the reflected image appears. What is of interest is the person’s relationship with the object. If we compare the two capturing methods, as to the framing of the image, we can find another paradoxical relationship in the conception of her work: at one point the artist focuses on the detail of the image of the body and at another she stays at a distance.

Bodily uncanniness: Das Unheimliche

The series of photographs called Das Unheimliche, 2011, a Freudian term sourced from the artist’s education in psychoanalysis, holds meaning as to the conception of uncanniness which the images of dolls can provoke. Photographed in black and white, this collection of dolls, with expressive gazes and intensely realistic appearances, challenges our gaze. As in other works, Giordani forces us to look directly at her subjects, through close-up framing and unusual cutting which she uses as if she wanted viewers to immerse themselves in the images. The work, Das Unheimliche 3, 2011, provokes visual discomfort by cutting the face of the doll in which she removes one of the eyes from the field of view. The dark eye, surrounded by an intense white, which remains in the piece, compellingly draws in our gaze. The doll’s position with its hands in front of its body seems to evoke a state of surprise at the closeness, maybe our closeness as viewers. Together with that eye, it produces a feeling of uncanniness. The form in which the artist mobilises the visual representation of the dolls through said cuts, framing and leaning poses, in the piece, Das Unheimliche 1, 2011, does not bring play to mind. They are only “inanimate objects;”

When playing around, children give life to toys, making dolls speak and interact and often endowing them with an identity and human feelings. Without children around, this situation changes: once put way on the bookshelf or spread about on the floor, they are nothing more than inanimate objects. Encountering this motionlessness and empty gaze, in a rubber body with features very similar to those of a human, aroused a sensation of uncanniness in me (GIORDANI, comment by the artist on her website).

The artist does not undertake any physical transgression on the bodies of the dolls as Hans Bellmer did. If there is any type of transgression in Giordani’s work, it is in the way of looking through the window of the camera, which is a visual transgression in the way of recording and framing the subject. By way of photography, she creates an uncanniness of form.

Silvia Giordani’s series of photographs focuses its interest on issues regarding the body as a physical, psychical and intellectual substance. It deals with the relationship of the body with its objects: rock, books, mirrors and dolls which produce conflicts in meaning. The progression of her pieces consolidates a system juxtaposing visual and conceptual paradoxes which create the possibility for uncanny situations between images.


GIORDANI, Silvia. Comments by the artist on her website: Porto Alegre, 2011.

JEUDY, Henri-Pierre. O corpo como objeto de arte [The Body as an Object of Art]. São Paulo: Estação Liberdade, 2002.

RIBEIRO, Niura Legramante. Ficções fisionômicas? [Fictions regarding Facial Features?]. Text for the Constructions Project. Porto Alegre, 2011.

EWING, William. El Rostro humano, el nuevo retrato fotográfico [The Human Face, the new photographic portrait]. Barcelona: Blume, 2008.


1Phd in History, Theory and Art Criticism PPG-AVI, UFRGS and Master of Arts, ECA/USP. Professor at DAV, IA, UFRGS.

2Although the expression, “Flesh and Rock,” may evoke the book by Richard SENNETT.  Flesh And Stone: The Body And The City In Western Civilization. São Paulo: Record, 2001, the idea for the title of the artist’s project did not originate from this book, but from the relations between book titles referring to the body and the basalt rock which she photographs in her work.

3This Constructions project came about from readings and discussions on texts, analyses of images, visits to exhibitions and meetings with artists, at the GEF workshop Photograph Study Group [GEF] which I have given at the Open Atelier in Porto Alegre for a few years.  In this workshop, there have been many debates regarding the subject of the body and identity through the reading of texts by various authors, such as Aaron Scharf, André Rouillé, Annateresa Fabris, Arlindo Machado, Douglas Crimp, François Soulages, Jean-François Chevrier, Joan Fontcuberta, Phillipe Dubois, Susan Sontag, Walter Benjamin, among others.

4The second text by the artist refers to the idea of ‘uncanniness.’ See the artist’s comment on her website,