Copyright Mariken Wessels 2010 courtesy Alauda Publications
Mariken Wessels has again created another interesting and complex narrative based on found photographs in conjunction with borrowed memories for her photobook Queen Ann. P.S. Belly cut off. Wessels’s earlier book, which was re-published by Alauda Publications, Elisabeth – I want to eat, was an investigation into the dichotomy between a normal external appearance and internal downward spiral and chaos. In Queen Ann, the discourse has been reversed, where the subject of this narrative is in denial with her external reality as to who she has become.
Wessels, who orchestrates this semi-fictional story about Anne, (Dutch name is Anika), combines found photographs to mesh with those appropriated from Anne. It is implied that Anne is responsible for defacing, decorating or otherwise attempting to alter the obvious reality of who she is at the moment. Wessels investigates how a person will choose denial; avoiding accountability and dealing with the consequences of personal choices.
As with her earlier book Elisabeth, this story unfolds sequentially, focusing on the attractiveness of her mother when she was younger. The earlier portrait of her mother has subsequently been marked over with dark lines and scribbles as marks of rejection. The there is a transition to Anne when she was young, a pudgy young girl standing next to her attractive mother, but who now is decorated to resemble a clown, while Anne has an additional hand-colored garment, what Anne describes as a sailor suite, but effectively to conceal her size even at that age.
When Anne becomes older, there appears to be a dark episode, perhaps a dream or even a nightmare, narrated by a set of blurry black and white images. The borders have thick black edges, almost engulfing the image, adding an ominous and mysterious element. Anne is running nude with her mouth gaping open, perhaps mid-scream? It is a traumatic event, perhaps even life altering, an event that is so traumatic as to be suppressed, and has subsequently emotionally scared her for life. In one frame, Anne appears to a willing participant in this sexual event, that this might have been an extra-marital fling, and now her hidden scarlet letter? Wessels opens a question about repressed and unspoken events that have lasting consequences but are difficult to deal with when concealed, dark secrets that can not be mentioned, to anyone.
It is after this dark event, that we witness the rapidly increasing size of Anne, who appears to have little or no control over her situation. Now in these subsequent photographs, Anne has been hand-coloring hats, scarves or altering her make-up to clownish proportions as well as attempting to conceal her overweight girth. The act of altering these photographs introduces an underlying tension and friction between Anne and the viewer, as the viewer becomes engulfed with the obvious subterfuge.
Wessels increases the complexity of this book with the inclusion of a sealed glassine envelope, which the translucency is sufficient to be able to discern that there are five individual photographs enclosed. The question; is it necessary to open the envelope and examine the additional photographs? And what consequence would that act have in providing clues and understanding to this narrative? The alternative is keep the envelope sealed; only to examine the photographs through the glassine envelope to attempt to gain further information?
Metaphorically, the photographs in the glassine envelope are similar to photographs that are not in a glassine envelope, only that with the photographs in the glassine envelope; there is a realization that only part of the information can be obtained. When looking at an unencumbered photograph, we suppose that all of the information is readily available, which in reality it is not. The photographs in the glassine envelope provides the same limited information as one that is out of the glassine envelop, we just are not aware of that condition, much as we are not aware of what Anne is concealing and not fully divulging.
As Wessels narrative evolves towards the conclusion, she includes another decorated photograph by Anna (Anika), who pens within the margins a very rhetorical question; Ben ik nog te redden? (Is there any hope for me?) As with any rhetorical question, this and the questions raised by this book proceed unanswered.
Identical in size to Alauda Publications edition of Wessels’s Elisabeth – I want to eat, the book has stiff covers with perfect binding, with all of Anne’s handwritten notes translated from Dutch into English, accompanied by a sealed glassine envelope containing what appears to be five photographs.
by Douglas Stockdale