BODY OF WORK:
GIULIANO BEKOR’S “TRANSCENDENCE”
BY PETER FRANK
If the human body contains the human soul, it does so at a proximity so close as to be contiguous. Psychic well-being is a form of physical well-being, and vice versa. Similarly, physical sickness manifests psychically. But what if we could transform, even upend this direct relationship? What if we could turn pain and deformity into beauty and delight? The quest to do just that – to take the body’s wounds and failures and turn them, without perversity, into glorious apparition – drives the series of photographs Giuliano Bekor has titled “Transcendence.”
Once the source of Bekor’s imagery is known, the rubric “Transcendence” makes ready sense. The elaborate patterns and painterly colors that dance, literally, before our eyes have been derived from clinical microphotographs of cancer cells. The source of those cells are women, and among the cancers represented are those that afflict women particularly (certain ones to nearly epidemic proportions). What we behold, then, is the immediate image of illness and death. And what Bekor has done is transform this image into one of wonder and allure. This is not black magic: this is artistic imagination applying the power of transformation to that which can destroy us. “Transcendence” indeed: poison has become elixir.
Bekor, famed as a commercial photographer, habitually stares at women’s presences through his camera. Here, as it were, he stares into them, finding in them not the disorder that will destroy them but the energy that will rebuild them. By “painting” women’s bodies with luminous configurations based on disorders in women’s bodies, Bekor empowers women – indeed, all humans – to reclaim health, to quell cellular rebellion and remit to biochemical harmony. Turn your inner sabotage into art, Bekor demonstrates. Beauty is in the body of the beholder.
It should be noted that the images comprising “Transcendence,” and several other of Bekor’s recent series of art photography, have been realized entirely from life. That is, not only are the images of cancer cells provided directly from hospitals, clinics, and other biomedical sources, but the figures on which these images have been cast have stood thus before Bekor’s lens and have been visually recorded as such. As he goes to great pains to point out, no digital manipulation is involved. Bekor literally projects the cellular imagery onto the still or moving bodies of models – dancers, really – and ultimately isolates the shots that capture the array of vibrant pattern he seeks. Multilayered as Bekor’s method is, it is thoroughly analog, a composing in studio – “in camera,” as it were – rather than in Photoshop. This gives the images a subtle depth and immediacy, the same kind of resonance others claim for analog production in other art forms (e.g. vinyl records, hand-printed books).
But Bekor does not seek sensuous texture and vivid form merely for their own sake. His concern for the corporeal – especially when opened to the metaphorical complexities of a project like “Transcendence” – demands that he be as faithful as possible to the presence of the human, especially female, form. At a time when women are claiming and demanding control over their own bodies, anyone purporting to represent and exalt those bodies must honor their integrity and autonomy. Furthermore, Bekor tables a complex, even risky proposition: that something that sabotages the female body can be envisioned as part of its glory. Cancer is never lovely, but its current hold on our imagination can be loosened if we know that it is not necessarily stronger than us. Modern science is doing an increasingly remarkable job of taming cancer. Here, Giuliano Bekor proposes that we can tame cancer in our imagination as well, by turning it into art.