A strange pleasure emanates from Laure Cottin Stefanelli’s images, a pleasure that stems from the interruption of systems, the suspension of discipline. The characters she portrays often engage in the strictures of self-imposed rigour – marriage, high-level sports, addiction, erotic role play – and her camera emboldens them in their carefully planned choreographies. Not that these choreographies become, as a result, deconstructed or “unmasked”; rather she balances the individuals between desire and ritualised gesture, arresting them in seemingly affective fulfilment. Cottin Stefanelli leaves unsaid what lies outside the frame, where conventions and rules govern the protagonists’ behaviours (although the soundtracks of her films often give precise clues to her characters’ lives). What remains in the frame, cropped out of context, ends up looking solitary, but also confident – one dares say beautiful.
In Cottin Stefanelli’s selection from her ongoing Centauresse series, even the still lives of flowers take on a quiet determination, however awkwardly posed. The reference to the figure of the Centauresse hints at the flawed heroes of myths, who are often punished with radical morphological transformation for having strayed from their destinies. Except that in Cottin Stefanelli’s images, metamorphosis is held at bay while the protagonists appear at ease in their ambiguous, highly staged poses. The heroes of Cottin Stefanellis’ films share a similar complicity in the artist’s mise en scène. In her 2019 film Double You Double You, Jennifer the bodybuilder slowly acts out the movements of her sport, allowing her sculptural body to become the focus of desire – hers as much as the viewer’s. In Timothy (2015), the film’s title character is a pro swimmer catching his breath on the side of the pool. With his unfazed gaze directed at the camera, he seems to be in a state of emotional suspension, at the same time acknowledging his centrality and deriving pleasure from being singled out. As in all myths, Cottin Stefanelli’s protagonists are swept up in plots that they – and we – cannot fully fathom. Yet they stand unbowed: even if they did not ask for it, they are not going to shy away from occupying, if only briefly, the coveted position of desiring and desired subject.
Antony Hudek is the Director of the Post-Master Curatorial Studies Program at KASK-School of Arts Gent. He is also an independent curator and publisher. He was curator at M HKA (Antwerp) and Tate (Liverpool), director of Objectif Exhibitions (Antwerp), and deputy director of Raven Row in London. He has taught art history and exhibition history at Liverpool John Moores University, University College London and Antwerp University. He is the founding co-director of Occasional Papers, a non-profit publisher of books on art and design.