Drawn from archives collected by the Italian artist since 2015, this unique artwork includes over 300 images of sexist advertising. The resolutely ”disturbing” iconography has been classified by category: from the stereotype of the ”perfect housewife” to 1960s ads featuring women subordinated to the ”gaze” of the camera, depicting them from top to bottom. From the ”doll” – constituting almost a decorative element – to the manifest attempts at emancipation in the 1970s, which in reality still show women-object figures, to the even more explicitly sexist physique and language of the 1980s, and thereafter to the recent 2000s displaying clichés of women coveted by a group of men.
The extensive research carried out has served as the basis for this conceptual piece, for which Elena Bellantoni decided to place herself in the shoes of a ”sexist advertiser”, putting together 24 new ads retracing the aesthetics and representations of the 1940s to the present day. The new campaigns, specifically conceived for her work, are made up of photographs coupled with slogans, each of which ”has its own phrase”, as if it were a linguistic response to the images produced. The protagonists of these advertisements are embodied by the artist herself, who has elaborated a set for each shot, immersing herself in the situations and bodies of other women, the subject of the advertising discourse.
The central theme of this work is the female body, its commodification and objectification.
It is about breaking out of a semantic grid in which the female body has been confined for too long. These images often no longer surprise us, as they are now introjected and part of the cardinal system in which we are immersed. As Elena Bellantoni wrote: ”My position is NOT HER, the statement that has become the thread that guides and binds all my work and installations, images and writings alike. NOT HER is an image in itself, a response to the dominant stereotype: it’s not her, she’s no longer all that”. NOT HER becomes an endeavor to create a new paradigm, to overturn stereotypes. In this case, the medium is the message, as the philosopher and sociologist Marshall McLuhan theorized (1964, theory taken from the essay Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man)
NOT HER is a verbal and visual narrative that unfolds and takes shape in the paradox, intrusion, overabundance and accumulation of images and phrases with which we are constantly bombarded. The adverts revisited by Elena Bellantoni are collages with a well-defined aesthetic, inspired by the verbal and visual research of artists active in the 1970s such as Ketty la Rocca and Lucia Marcucci. The slogans and photographs refer to the work of two great figures of contemporary art, Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman; the choice of language, that sometimes even rhymes – in the style of John Giorno – is functional for pun-making, because the poetic is political.
The artist takes a clear stand by saying NO to the mechanism of objectification of the female body, to its employment as an instrument of control, to the power devices that regulate the boundaries and relationships between bodies. NOT HER, AN ARTWORK SPECIALLY CONCEIVED FOR DIOR BY ELENA BELLANTONI presents.
The body is the site of conflict, but it can become the space of resolution and action: both linguistic and performative. This is why the artist decided to use her own body to ”enter” – as in a performance – all these images. Exploring gestures, poses and points of view to echo the predominant stereotypes established over time, each incarnation is a self-portrait in the sense that Elena Bellantoni becomes all these women at once. All belong to her, and none really exist. Her body has been altered in post-production according to models imbued with an overridingly patriarchal visual culture, from the 1940s to the present.
Authenticity is called into question by the digital image and finds redemption in writing, understood as the possibility of asserting oneself, the only way to interrupt the ”monologue of patriarchy”, as Carla Lonzi would say. This process runs through this very creation, in a grand mechanism of mystification and commodification: NO-BODY IS YOURS, NO-BODY IS PERFECT, EVERY-BODY IS PERFORMATIVE.
Elena Bellantoni’s artwork is key to the scenography for the Dior spring-summer 2024 ready-to-wear show thought up by Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Exclusively for this Dior défilé, Elena Bellantoni has designed a monumental video installation – consisting of 7-meter-high LED screens – based on a series of photographic collages devised and digitized for this project.
From a visual point of view, the artist chose to use split-flap grids, an analog device adapted to digital language in which images are composed and repeated punctually by the rhythm of the mechanism. The split-flaps emit noise, cadencing the succession of characters, underlining in a slightly intrusive way the state of things: the female body and its exploitation as an object of desire and of the male gaze. This deliberately pop visual universe is populated by small objects that move like animated motifs on a collage. They become ironic, grotesque elements that float in space and become part of the heart of the scenes. It’s a two-dimensional world, the details of which are generated by artificial intelligence: a fictional universe, constructed and studied to perfection, just like advertising. YOU MAY THINK THIS IS NOT TRUE, IT’S JUST REAL.
The installation has been created to be highly immersive, utilizing the sequence of images and text in the video animation to convey the media hammering to which we are constantly subjected, and which has forged a certain hackneyed and sexist imaginary, from the 1940s onwards.
The two main colors of the installation, yellow and fuchsia, like two highlighters, are intended to emphasize this juxtaposition of bodies and language, lending the space a performative dimension.
NOT HER is the response, the message that accompanies all the images: to every sexist slogan, the visual model’s urgent, repetitive response is always
NOT HER. NOT HER is an image in itself, the response to the stereotype, because it’s not HER.