It's a familiar dream: You're chasing a train because you need to go somewhere important, but can't run quite fast enough. You wake up in a cold sweat with a pounding heart. Nightmares like this inspired Cornelia Hediger's black-and-white photography collection Exit, on display February 2 to 27 at ViewPoint Gallery. The collection serves as a "visual diary" of a period in Hediger's 20s when she was plagued by stress dreams.
The New York photographer received most of her critical acclaim for the Doppelganger collection, in which she explores the Freudian conflict and dialogue between the subconscious and conscious mind. But her earlier Exit shouldn't be dismissed. Exit taps into the artist's psyche on a more raw and intuitive level than the more cerebral Doppelganger, which she shot in her 30s. In Exit, Hediger explores her personal struggles, distilling ambivalent and dark emotions into images that are both universal and difficult to swallow.
Exit consists of a series of self-portraits, with Hediger's face always blurred or obscured. The result is that Hediger expresses all emotion solely with her body. The images are tension-packed, often portraying the artist running or in free fall. We see Hediger crashing head-first down stairs, clambering out of bathroom windows and sprinting through narrow hallways with her arms flailing out to her sides. "I don't think I lost control. I just felt like it was never given to me," she explains. "Nothing was stable. It was a really tough time."
Strongly in touch with her subconscious desires, much of Hediger's quarter-life anxiety rose to the surface while she was exploring her sexuality. In one photo, we see Hediger furiously clasping her genitals, appearing to shake violently. Another shot shows Hediger sprawled on a bare floral mattress with her legs gaping open, skirt hiked up. Light from the window of the derelict room cascades across her chest, while onions and dried foliage carpet the floor. In another, Hediger grasps the edge of a mattress, spreading her legs and throwing her head back. It appears as though an invisible hand is trying to knock her on the bed. The images are unromantic and unapologetic, coupling an unruly sexual desire with despair. "Somebody actually called me a sick, sick woman and asked me to get a hobby," she says, laughing.
Ever the perfectionist, it's unlikely Hediger would have time for one. To get the perfect shot of herself running down the narrow hallway, she shot the scene 97 times. She sets her tripod on a timer setting, forcing herself to spring to position in 10 seconds. "I shoot by myself. I set up the lighting. I do everything by myself because I want to work on my own." When shooting Exit, Hediger wandered around without firm plans. She found herself in decomposing sheds, in concrete rooms with peeling paint, in antique bathtubs and poised to jump off ledges several stories high.
The viewer's sense of helplessness is heightened by the fact that Hediger shot the images from the powerless perspective of a five-year-old. Hediger found herself shooting the Exit photos entirely from her knees. By contrast, when creating her Doppelganger series, she shot from above. She perched herself atop furniture, sometimes so high up she could barely make it down in 10 seconds to pose. The shifting viewpoint is symptomatic of her evolving perspective as an artist and human being. "I've gotten off the ground, I feel, finally," she says happily.
Cordelia Hediger, Exit, February 2-27, ViewPoint Gallery, 1272 Barrington Street, 420-0854, viewpointgallery.ca