Tilton Gallery – December 2007
Ashley Hope’s oil paintings are based on crime scene photos. On large canvases, 4 by 6 feet, they recreate images of murdered women in visceral yet pristine detail. Forensic, her photographs range from the 1910’s to the 1990’s.
Featuring actual victims of Lustmord, or lust murder, inside the nature of a universe that allows such things to happen, the images recuperate a larger story than the narrative at hand, The pretty pattern on the wallpaper or the victim’s very bright attire, belong in a world wherein the tragic and the passion co-exist. Ultimately, it is not the gory elements of a specific death that Hope offers her viewer, but rather the epiphany of life and her own gesture of inquire.
Hope’s women retain much of their beauty. Reduced to a body, the images, always women, underscore the actual dichotomy. Smaller works based on ladies’ panty advertisements function as close-ups of vaginal mounds. The veiled in the Panties series replaces the knowable-yet-unknowable nature of the universe as represented in her crime scene images. The Panties series could be Hope’s humorous approach.
The Glint, was a quality of vision, a quality of reality itself, when minute details were abundantly apparent. Indeed, we coined the name “glint” from the sharp tiny highlight the sun would create on the fenders of the cars on our suburban street. Aside from the pervasive clarity, the Glint always brought on a feeling of having seen the truth, the fabric of our existence, even if only fleetingly. The Real is a tear in the screen, and while you can see there is something essential there—as if true nature is almost revealing itself—you can’t make it out, can never make it out… So although we could never state what the truth was, for my sister and me, one thing did seem clear: it was amoral, we were incidental, and our stories meaningless.
In fact, this sensation of the Glint, is common at moments of tragedy and trauma. Both terrified and mesmerized, in the case of human tragedy the ordinary setting of my ordinary narrative takes on that scary majesty. Emily Dickinson:
The last night that she lived
It was a common night—
Except the dying—this to us
Made nature different.
We noticed smallest things—
Things overlooked before
By this great light upon our minds—
Italicized, as ’twere.
As if normal things were italicized, stressed somehow in her vision.
At the moment of trauma, and shortly thereafter, the world appears as somewhat flat, hard-edged and exceedingly clear. It loses continuous perspective and seems void of space or movement or causal relations. Reality as a stained glass window, or a “series of wafer thin planes”, the most painful in regards to this art, is the absence of Cathexis (the phenomenon of attributing emotional value to inanimate objects).
And for people who have no god, no well-written story, the feeling of meaninglessness does not lift with it. It’s there for good. Like Adam and Eve, we know can never return to the Garden. From here on out, we are always a little resentful and not at home.
It was a great mistake– my being born a man.
I would have been much more successful as a seagull or a fish.
As it is, I will always be a stranger
Who never feels at home,
Who does not really want, is not really wanted,
Who can never belong—
Who must always, therefore, be a little in love with death.
The crime scene photograph is a religious image: random matter collides fortunately or unfortunately with other random matter. One empathizes with the victim who did not deserve her fate—more complex is the empathy for the perpetrator. Committing a random act of lust murder, for the serial killer, is like striking a match in the dark—in the sudden flash, for a brief spell, the killer sees the perfect alignment of his two major premises: A) The world is random and amoral; life is sans meaning, and B) A man has free will. We see the world as the killer saw it. Premise A and B come together and, in their brutal way, make sense.
You are mulling over a photograph of a lust murder —they are gazing through four layers of vision:
1.)Through the victim’s eyes. Through the anguish and shock experienced by the victim.
2.)Through the killer’s eyes. Through the crime scene as the perpetrator left it.
3.)Through objectifying documentary eye.
4.)Through scrutinizing the photo and experiencing shock — through learning that’s what death looks like.
The crime scenes depicted, those of lust murder, best capture an element of betrayal. Her beauty made her a target. That wallpaper is just so inappropriate. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen. In these crimes, there are no exterior motives that make sense—these deaths are not the by-products of war, drugs, revenge or robbery… They are void of a practical motive the average person can relate to. They exemplify a reality that betrays our expectations; a reality that so often takes us outside of our understanding.
Lastly, the lust murder photograph has both an instinctual and political motivation. Crime scene photos have an attract/repel quality. Wherein the beautiful and the hideous exist side by side the victims were objects of beauty. They weren’t just life to be snuffed, they were beautiful life.
Women are bodies with tangible value as pleasure objects, as workers and as breeders. It is man’s assumption that a woman’s inner life is somehow lesser than his, that makes these crimes so horrific—the victim has been made into the thing expected of her: a body sans any interior experience. Not conceptually, not culturally, but actually.
Ashley Hope showed work the summer of 2019 at Ildiko Butler Gallery in New York.