Guy Lane reviews Pernilla Zetterman’s monograph Behave, an examination of the relationships between behaviour, the body, identity, discipline and control
Over forty years ago sociologist Norbert Elias challenged what he described as ‘the image of the individual as an entirely free, independent being, a “closed personality” who is “inwardly” quite self-sufficient and separate from all other people […] a little world in himself who ultimately exists quite independently of the great world outside.’ Instead, Elias proposed that the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ might not be so readily separated, that the unexamined assumption of a ‘sharp dividing line between what is “inside” man and the “external world”’ might mask a contingent and mutable process.
© Pernilla Zetterman, The Night Guard (Behave 26)
Might it be possible to allude to these issues in a set of photographs? Perhaps so - Swedish photographer Pernilla Zetterman’s first monograph Behave is an examination of the relationships between behaviour, the body, identity, discipline and control. Two images introduce the work: the first is of a nighttime mouthguard designed to prevent the damage that can ensue from the unconscious grinding of teeth during sleep; the second is a profile of a (female?) torso bound in a straitjacket. Both pictures address the ‘external’ means and implements by which ’internal’ drives and expressions might be regulated.
© Pernilla Zetterman Mother's Dill (Behave 16)
Zetterman's book is divided into two chapters, the first of which - When – collates a series of images in which the apparently 'found' arrangement of household items might be read as resulting from an 'internal' longing for order. So Zetterman photographs an electrical extension cable neatly bound with fastidiously knotted green string; and a neatly stacked pile of old newspapers – again tied – are pictured on the floor by a doorway, waiting to be thrown out presumably. 'Grandmother's Sheets' shows the pressed and folded contents of a linen cupboard; 'Grandmother's Napkin', a pressed and folded serviette; and 'Letters from Grandmother,' a carefully arranged collection of opened mail.
As the chapter title announces, When, situates these seemingly insignificant still-lifes within a meditation on the passage of time – here most deliberately evoked by photographs of rotting fruit, dried flowers, discolouring vegetables, dead herbs, and the like. There are pictures too of chipped paintwork, scraped keyholes, and bubbling varnish. Further, two triptychs – focusing on the feet and the navel – show three generations (grandmother, mother and daughter) of body parts. Zetterman is, possibly, describing the transfer of domestic protocols and values, a scheme of household ordering, across time and generations
© Pernilla Zetterman, Trollbacken Track No. 3
The second half of the work is entitled, wryly, Ground Rules, a play on the literal and figurative meanings of the phrase. Literally speaking, the chapter arrays a sequence of photographs showing the ruled lines laid down to mark out the tracks on the ground of an athletics arena. Some are graphic in their simplicity; others are photographed after snow has fallen on the area, the lines barely perceptible against a field of winter grey. Figuratively speaking, the title can refer to a set of fundamental limits and constraints, the basic measures necessary for discipline. This is the context for Zetterman’s appearance – in the book’s closing images - in two taut, lithe and studiedly posed self-portraits. They evince self-control and the rigours of physical training – or the ‘internalisation’ of those ‘exterior’ ground rules.
© Pernilla Zetterman, Conduct No. 1
Behave - Pernilla Zetterman
Texts by Urs Stahel and Helene Bostrom
Publ. Hatje Cantz, Euro 35.