The Taxonomy of the Body in the Work of Gabriele Leidloff


(excerpt: Lecture, Annual Conference of The Society for Cinema Studies, San Diego, USA 1998)

Leidloff`s work presents a critique of the idea that we are flooded by images, variations of the same representations of what she calls "situative processes of movement". Her images are metaphors of the body, of the various layers that constitute `a body`.

The body thus filmed or produced by radiographic imaging is not a static mass, is not the self-identical body that the theatricality of the cinema presents in a make-belief structure. This body is rather a potentiality, an ensemble of forces, an undecidable figure that opens an interval of a virtual past and an indeterminate future. It is a surface where disparate temporal perspectives overlap and conflict without being resolvable into a sensomotoric situation. This body allies itself with the creative forces of thought, expressing its potential to metamorphose, to affect and be affected.

Leidloff uses computer tomography, sonography and x-raying as camera techniques. The `bodies` thus represented are constitutive of visual paradoxes: what you see is matter because radiographic images register the density of the object; the whiter the space, the denser the material. Yet the body as matter is translated back into a surface, i.e. the image, and these surfaces are being moved by the videotaping technique. And these images are copies of structures of a body that the visual culture of this century has exhausted.


Leidloff,, 1997, Video, VHS, PAL, 30‘ loop

Velan, Turin, I, 1998 (catalogue)


By using medical radiographic imaging, e.g. sonography, CAT scanning and radiography, Gabriele Leidloff has developed a method of manufacturing a paradox, so to speak, in which one does not view the insides of a human being as intended, but instead is faced with the customary depiction of an external view. She makes use of conventional camera settings (film and television) in the process, working in an optically formal manner to serve her purposes. At the same time, however, she satirizes, inter alia via a seemingly "virtual" surface in her works, the euphoria of the new media. "(...) In the hundreds year after the invention, the X-ray picture gives the cold foretaste of the other side of Cybersex." (Hajo Schiff, die tageszeitung, 2 July 1996).

The radiographic images expose an unconventional form of "Substanzphotographie": portraits whose contours are not fixed by the light on the surface, but by the density of the material itself. A photograph perspective is rendered impossible. In this way the head appears organic; the amorphous plaster of Paris gets back an ostensible skin.

"(...) Photography shows individuals, from outside: The X-ray image reveals the amounts of matter that compose those things. These images, generated entirely as measurements of materiality, are immaterial. That is the écart intérieur of the X-ray image, its inner distance. The works of Gabriele Leidloff grew from her recognizing and manipulating this property." (Schuldt, Hamburg 1996).

Among other distinctions, the artist received an invitation in 1997 to attend a symposium on Art and Science at Columbia University in New York. Art and Science, two specialized fields. Between the two of them, she works contrary to the initial sense intended for the tools being used within them, and lends irony to the rigidity of the genres.



Gabriele Leidloff’s work engenders contradictory emotions of disturbed pacification. The tensions dealt with are subtle. What might seem to be a morbid preoccupation at the first encounter quickly re-surfaces as a fascination with life itself, or more correctly, "alive-ness" since what one begins to question (whether deliberately or not) is the precise point separating the living from the not living. By extension, the line that divides the medical from the aesthetic -- if indeed there is one -- is blurred. The xrays are shown not in the typical context of fine art frames, but in medical light boxes. They are best viewed in the medical environment such as at the April 1997 exhibition at Columbia University [hall] in New York. With the xrays a dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious mind immediately ensues: While one may recognize they are viewing xrays, the fact that the subjects are not quite human may be elusive (except, of course to the medically savy, who will at once recognize the absence of internal human structure). It becomes a matter of perceptual orientation. The death masks are arranged in odd formations (Are they kissing?), and the locked-in’s could very well be sleepers deep in dreamy serenity.

Jack Waters
New York 1998


A Foretaste of Cybersex

Plaster and X-rays: only art brings them together in an exhibition. Gabriele Leidloff uses kilo-volt and micro-ampere to screen through artificial bodies to turn them into odd and technical still lives and shows an artistic exploration of daily techniques in a wider sense. (...)

Gabriele Leidloff also works against the original intention of her tool. She uses high energy photography which has been developed to look inside the body, to illustrate outside views. She experiments with the medical device to illustrate dummies and porn dolls. How do you set up the inner boltings of a dummie for a picture, how will the plastic welding seam show, how does the inner life of an artifical sex partner become visible?

Through tilting of the X-ray beam one can create a shadow, a perspective like the optical photography is not possible. But still yet, Gabriele Leidloff succeeds in the photographed radiograph of ´Man, 58´ to let the surface of a plaster mask seem organic. The amorphous plaster receives through this technique the persentiment back of an apparently living skin.

The views and transparencies of these artifical bodies, are combined into two big installations of light boxes and appear like drawings. In one of the bluish gleaming contour drawings, a hand on a chest and an open vagina are visible: in the hundreds year after the invention, the X-ray picture gives the cold foretaste of the other side of Cybersex.

Hajo Schiff, die tageszeitung, 2 July 1996



On Gabriele Leidloff

X-ray is not photography

X-rays produce black-and-white images. At first glance they resemble the familiar depictions of black-and-white phoptography. Yet they seem magical, spirit-like, akin to photograms (Schado(w)graphs, a.k.a, Rayograms). Like these, they owe their existence simply to a source of rays, without benefit of a camera, without focussing. Unlike photography - which displays an image of rays as reflected by surfaces - radiographs and photograms show rays after they have penetrated matter. There is, however, one distinction worth bearing in mind with regard to the works shown here: in photograms, the source of radiation can be thought of as a flat expanse, the rays as practically parallel ; but the source of X-rays is a point, the radiation fanning out in a cone.

The images are spooky because they are negs; empty space shows black while things present show as white, as absences. The valori plastici of the images as well as the spatial effect of the objects (the latter more in evidence in radiographs than in photograms) are brought about by the density of the things shown and their thickness at each particular point: density by thickery. To be precise, it is actually the other way round, both in photograms and in radiographs: what we see is the density of the things not shown. Only the absences are shown, are where they rays hit the film.

Objects to be x-rayed can be placed at an incline on supports made of a substance invisible to X-rays. A different image is then obtained, not because the object presents its face at a slant to the rays but because the bias modifies the lengths of the ray paths.

The X-ray image is a portrait of matter, a measurement of substance conveyed as an image. Photography, on the other hand, does not deal with matter, it deals with things: it restitutes the looks of their surfaces. Photography shows individuals, from outside: The X-ray image reveals the amounts of matter that compose those things. These images, generated entirely as measurements of materiality, are immaterial. That is the écart intérieur of the X-ray image, its inner distance. The works of Gabriele Leidloff grew from her recognizing and manipulating this property.

Schuldt 1996



Some theories on the correlation between death and realism in fine arts


(excerpt: Philosophy and Images Of the World between Idealism and Realism. Lecture, Hamburg, winter term 1996-97)

Scientifically relevant categories and terms which developed in a historically differentiated manner are becoming obsolete despite their evidence for critical analysis. In connection with the art-historical term realism it is noteworthy and manifest that the necessary transformation of visual concepts and the accompanying terms explaining these are hardly considered. Reverting to the termini in the context of the current central themes of subjective physical sensation and obsessive media-influenced sensationalism is indispensable for art history and current modern art. This holds for the necessity of Schiller‘s concept of naivite as prerequisite for confronting frontier and taboo zones in an openingly questioning, searching and perceiving manner, for reconsidering Marcel Duchamps confrontations between the distance points of nature and industrialized mass confection (convention) which define art and for Louis Aragon‘s surrealist approach of having to integrate the conflict between the opposites (among them life and death) in our philosophy and thinking. Particularly in the development of modern art which defines itself as political, the critical look at death and its depiction as well as the rituals which surround and shroud death play a primary role.

A quiet - almost scientific - observation of everyday life and the repressed and an initially unbiased stock-taking of the levels of distance between nature, ritual (nature/civilization) and technology (culture) characterizes the images and the art of Gabriele Leidloff. The seeming paradox - death as a point of communication - exposes the human processes of exchange in this frontier zone as insufficient. She probes this `speechles` area which aside from all necessary linguistic appropriation opens up an open area for her art which can be interpreted in different and contradicting ways. It is only by removing the distance to the observer that a conscious breakthrough of distance can be achieved. And this, in turn, elevates her art to the level of criticism and politics. Between the interdependent poles of raison and deraison (Michel Foucault) exists the opportunity to break out of the conceptual level and enter the visual zone of opposites of apparent existence and non-existing apparence unbiased. This form of sur-realism accepts the shock at the price of a truth which needs to be discovered, just as historically, the topics of death, illness and madness and the depiction of the distancing of the recipients accompanied the development of many artists (Courbet, Duchamps, Artaud among others). Along fracture lines that are considered taboo one would be able to write another art history in relation to reality.

Gunnar F. Gerlach