Born in Lausanne and based in Berlin since the late 1990s, Pauline Boudry has developed a practice that embraces film and video on the one hand and music on the other. Since 2007 she has produced all her projects in collaboration with Renate Lorenz. One recurring theme in their art concerns the links between work and sexuality, be it the work of constructing sexual identities or work as the place where these identities are tirelessly produced and reproduced.
The film Normal Work was inspired by archive photographs taken in 1860s England, which are themselves an integral part of the installation. These are portraits and self-portraits by Hannah Cullwick, a woman who all her life worked as a servant. In them, she poses in her working clothes, but also in ‘class drag’ or in ‘ethnic drag’ – that is, playing the roles of a bourgeois woman or black slave. These pictures were part of her secret sado-masochistic relationship with Arthur Munby, a London-based barrister, writer and photographer.
Normal Work raises the question of transgressing the limits between social hierarchies, classes, genders and races that Cullwick represented, hierarchies of which she was both the object and the protagonist, in that the images in these photographs enabled her to produce changes of social position that she also experienced in her daily life, notably when she travelled with Munby disguised in ‘bourgeois drag’. By having the performance artist Werner Hirsch replay four of Cullwick’s poses, the film interrogates the topicality of the questions raised by these archive photographs, that is to say, the fragile intersection between roles and identities in a world of work that continues to be traversed, albeit in different forms, by class and gender relations.
Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz and Charlotte Laubard (eds.), Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz. Moving Backwards, Geneva, Skira, 2019.
Elizabeth Freeman, Mathias Danbolt et alii, Pauline Boudry, Renate Lorenz. Temporal Drag, exh. cat. Geneva, Centre d’art contemporain, Lausanne, Musée cantonal des beaux-arts, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 2011.
Pauline Boudry, Renate Lorenz. Normal Work, Berlin, b_books, 2008.