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Exhibition Text: Jemima Stehli and Lewis Amar

Friends of i-cabin will know that it is not our usual practice to have texts to accompany the exhibitions, as someone is always here, we prefer to talk instead. Increasingly however it seems we are staging exhibitions where the complexities of the contexts under which the work is produced is vital to the importance of the show, and I am forced to acquiesce on this matter.

Exhibition programmers and curators alike are often drawn to work with artists who they know personally, many people (myself included) consider this a laziness, but it is inescapable that a knowledge of an artists personal situation and working habits often makes the difference between being interested in certain works or not. Ideally all artwork would reflect every important aspect of its own production and could stand alone and for-itself, but this is an unnecessary idealisation which dismisses an entire element of interest in art. That does not excuse the fact that in some cases even a body of work plus historical writing will not necessarily justify an artist's existence. I feel compelled to here describe my thoughts about the two artists works, alongside my understanding of its practical context, as to not would simply leave me with a strange note about their personal lives.

My individual point of entry to the work here shown was an awareness of the fact that Stehli was my landlord and Amar was her partner. As I remember it, he had been her student at Goldsmiths, and subsequently, in an order unbeknown to me, he had become her studio assistant and her lover. Their relationship bore, to my mind, the tensions of a couple who were also professionally involved, a situation which I could relate to. My personal interpretation of Stehli's work was based on an idea that one aspect of the work centred on the pretence of her offering control of her body to another, whilst retaining ultimate power over the artistic product of the scenario she instigated. As Amar was her assistant he regularly filled the position and as a result appears in many of Stehli's recent works in one of two roles: the physical director of her naked body or as the body which she directs for the gaze of herself and the camera. Amar meanwhile was producing films in which he fulfils one of two roles: the director of his own physical and bodily actions or as the director of other characters, which he manipulates or directs to act out their masquerades as mental or sexual aggressor.

Both bodies of work tormented my mind with ideas of sexual violence acted out in opposing ways. Stehli's work is like 'sex behind glass', her nakedness offers her as a shop-window sexual commodity but it is protected, a look-but-don't-touch sexuality, separated by the camera lens, the glass frame over a photograph, the window of a Foster building or a sheet of Perspex. When her body is handled on screen it is completely unresponsive. In short she uses separation as a tool of power; display as domination. (This idea is one I have written at greater length about in the essay Art and Power: The Fetishization of Separation , a chapter of which centres on the work of John Hilliard, an artist whom Jemima has collaborated with in the past).

Amar's work, by definition of its filmic nature could be addressed from the same point of view but it creates no desire in me to do so. Although, in consideration, his work is full of contradictions in this matter. Although I want to say, for symmetry's sake, that Amar's directorial technique is giving up control of the subject of the films in an authentic way and allowing their sexual and aggressive tendencies to take over, in certain films, the entropic nature of the system he generates (by allowing it to do what it wants) is so contrived that the outcome is a complete inevitability. The occasionally overheard demand of Amar to "not move around too much," portrays a different reality of the scene. His works have an immediacy which stimulates in me, as a viewer, the feelings of frustration which Stehli's work depicts. Contrasts in the works, to my mind, highlight the uncomfortable similarities, the word 'uncomfortable' being used as a transferred epithet. Both artists offer me something which they then refuse to supply.