Figures & Models of Surfaces

Isabelle Wenzel


Isabelle Wenzel’s striking images create an architecture of human form set against the towering buildings at Metro Hall. Situated at the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district, these female forms also highlight the powerful relationship between photography and performance. Playful, dynamic, and strange, each of these 13 photographs oscillate between surrealism and slapstick as the larger-than-life figures adopt unnatural, oftentimes outrageous, poses. Suggestive of a bizarre, out-of-sync chorus line of characters, each figure calls attention to their own objectification through distinctive clothing styles, high-contrast coloration, and awkward positioning, often while perched on pedestals or balancing delicate vessels. Importantly, their faces are never shown, which not only renders them as unidentifiable individuals but also positions the bodies as sculptural objects. Wenzel’s images confront the pervasive depiction of the sexualized female form and the tension that exists between the photographer, the subject, and the viewer.

Trained as an acrobat throughout her childhood, Wenzel—a German artist currently based in Wuppertal and Amsterdam—uses her own body for her work. Employing the camera’s self-release button as a tool for self-portraiture, which allows ten seconds to assume a pose, the time pressure offers the artist a performative challenge. While the resulting still images deny the frenzied positioning of the poses prior to the shutter’s release, they simultaneously convey the temporality of these very tenuously-held poses. Her body’s extreme positioning communicates a range of emotions: coquettish, daring, frightened, submissive, and confident. Wenzel’s theatrical approach creates an unsettling platform for humorous yet evocative images that emphasize how identity is constructed and staged.

Presented in partnership with the Goethe-Institut. Supported by the City of Toronto. 

The Goethe-Institut is a hub for contemporary German culture - visit them at 100 University Avenue.

Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein