Making artwork is a way to free myself from events I had been told not to speak about (SHELBI SCHROEDER)…
Shelbi Schroeder White No. 1, Fuji Instax Film, 2015
American artist Shelbi Schroeder makes photographs that have a sort of old world breathlessness to them. Her recent White series is made up of landscapes of pristine clouds, the subjects caught at the moment of snowy solitude and purity. Still others show the moment of sexual pleasure, where memories, rivers of time, a sense of other worldliness collide to become a moment of release and liberation. Explicitness has its place, I am no enemy of confrontational sexual imagery, however, we can look to a way of working wherein sensuality is all-consuming, yet not direct.
Nevertheless, I would add the Shelbi does not shy away from direct imagery entirely, her large-scale Instax project involved taking pictures of her nude body for an extended period of time, and asking a select group of participants to do the same.
Through this practice, she is confronted with the feminine bodily self, rather than being confronted with another’s idea of female sexuality and pleasure. These moments brought forth a transformation of her own vision of her true self, the role of desire and agency.
Shelbi Schroeder White No. 14, Fuji Instax Film, 2015
As language has changed in terms of sexual expression many contemporary women artists use art to evoke the feminine experience, one of the most interesting currencies, is, in fact, the way female artists portray feminine sexuality, specifically female desire, pleasure, and a sense of self within the lived body. These stories are often quietly intimate, not in the sense that there is sublimation, but rather that the pleasure is all their own. This sensuality is something beautiful, often achieved through a shedding of old rules, and experiences, casting aside of societal expectations, to find a new way to live, to be within one’s own body and erotic self.
For Shelbi, art’s power lies in the way it functions as locus for meditation, personal transformation, and even mediation. Most importantly, artistic practice is a catalyst for personal growth and even healing.
Shelbi Schroeder White No. 10, Fuji Instax Film, 2015
Shelbi Schroeder White No. 15, Fuji Instax Film, 2015
Rosa: Tell me how you came to be an artist…I know you studied formally but what else is behind your story?
As a child, the unity of being surrounded by many different makers of different sorts created the desire I have for making art.
Shelbi Schroeder: I was always sewing and crafting with my grandmother as a little girl. I used to lay belly down, elbows on the floor, hands supporting my face, while butted up against my brother as he drew Spawn and other comic characters. My grandfather was always tinkering in his garage working on his 46’ Ford. My father was a carpenter. My mother taught me the importance of a well laid out home.”
Making artwork is a way to free myself from events I had been told not to speak about. I was sexually assaulted at a young age.
Art allows me to portray a utopia where women are in charge of their bodies, a place where others are not allowed to violate them. My art speaks to women’s experience specifically, however, I believe no one should be violated and all people should have a right to make their own choices about their bodies.
Shelbi Schroeder White No. 12, Fuji Instax Film, 2015
RB: Please tell me how your own experiences that you mention inform your pictorial language?
SS: Because I have experienced sexual abuse I find myself passionate about sexual freedom. For most of my life I thought I was disgusting for wanting sex (after being sexually assaulted). I remember feeling a sort of perversion any time sexual desire would arise. I now realize I have no reason to be ashamed of my desires.
We all want what we want and if we are not hurting someone else why should be feel bad about it?
However, the process of working through the mind of a sexually abused person is not quite as simple as asking my simplified question, however, I was able to ask this question and explore more about the concept. This realization meant I could approach sex and desire with curiosity. My work since has been a celebration of a new way of experiencing sexuality.
Shelbi Schroeder White No. 9, Fuji Instax Film, 2015
Rosa: In addition to damaging messages about gender, female worth and the prevalence of sexual abuse in our society, not confirming to our culture’s unrealistic models of beauty often means people feel like they are not beautiful.
Feelings of not fitting in, and the unsettling systems in place for measuring human worthiness are all exposed in your large-scale Instax Body Project –including a confrontation with audience culpability –Can you tell me more about the project’s conceptualization, participants, and message?
Shelbi Schroeder Instax Body Project, Fuji Instax Film, 2015 (Please note this slideshow contains nudity)
SS: I began the Instax Body Project in 2012 as a way to face my fear of really looking at myself; a fear that had slowly crept over me without my true awareness.
Seriously, how can we live in our bodies and not ever look at them, really get to know them? I wanted to see myself. I wrote a grant to fund the project and after receiving one from UNLV’s Graduate and Professional Student Association I documented my naked body every day for nine months.
RB: How was this?
SS: The experience was liberating. I really saw my body and felt connected to it; I could no longer deny ownership over my body. Instead of being “fat” I saw my body as a form, a specific form that was fucking gorgeous. The project showed me a beauty I didn’t know I had. I wrote another grant to UNLV’s GPSA asking to help fund more cameras and I searched for 13 participants. Half of the models did the project for three months and the other for six months I was curious how timing would influence results).
I didn’t expect everyone would have the same experience as I did, and this turned out to be true. Many people had the inverse reaction; they hated the project, one participant expressed that they have been obsessed with being at their high school weight since doing the project. Others were excited and felt good that they pushed themselves to participate.
RB: And what did the project reveal?
SS: The project revealed the reality we live in; one where it is difficult to show our bodies to each other. Imagine a world where we just looked at bodies as shapes, where we had ownership of them, yet we objectified them in a way that they could no longer be tied to our egos; we saw form for what was simply form. The intimacy in the size of the Fuji film is what creates confrontation with the viewer. You either get up real close and view this image or you don’t see it. That confrontation is brave, and the choice to face the images, and not hide means change.
RB: Please elaborate how is your vision or outlook specifically related to this newfound and positive perception of sexuality? I am quite interested in the idea of art as an expression of female desire, pleasure, and self. Your White Series in the show Swoon explores this precise phenomenon.
SS: I speak about women specifically because I am a woman. The images represent sexual pleasure. The series in fact represents the part of an orgasm when you are not sure where you are: you are weightless and in the moment, you float, perhaps you have no clue what is going on anywhere else but there (in your body).
White No. 3, Fuji Instax Film, 2015
SS: This is the moment when you liberate yourself. Many of the poses in each of the images that are in the white series are sexually expressive, but that was not on purpose. While in White Sands, New Mexico with my model Nickolas Carl, we were not thinking about sex, rather about freedom. This proves my point that sex is one form of freedom —- but you have to let yourself allow it….