#deciduous

: the dropping of a part that is no longer needed

: falling away after its purpose is finished

          An apt summation of public indecency and monstrosity, nudity receives immediate calls for civil management of bodies. Once a popular form of humiliating punishment, such open display of human body continues to elicit negative affective responses—primarily, shame and fear—from both the practitioner and the beholder. In the meantime, nudity has held positive stake in various chapters of history, from Greek athleticism to sexual liberation movement, as a physical elaboration of victory and freedom. It functions, then, as a reservoir of clashing ideals endowed with ideological interest, the most prominent pair of which is natural/unnatural. Wearing the bare skin brings attention to not only what is nature but also what is natural to the human. Nudity marks the very perverse porosity between the private and the public, raising questions about the making of “separate spheres” and how who may occupy where.  

 

          A mundane fact of embodiment yet still an unnatural natural, nudity seldom luxuriates in neutral ground for its interpretation. Conventions around age, race, and gender play major role in receptions and reprobations of nudity, to name a few among many forces that condition every step of modern life. But in a society where clothing, a visual currency in sociality, is mobilized as an indispensable tool with which to demonstrate sophistication, let alone psychological coherence of the individual, nudity can seem to have permanently lost its vitality as an artistic vehicle for messages that it alone can deliver.

 

          Against the backdrop of these discourses, I seek to enter a continuing body of nudist artwork by centering again representation of gender, but from a long neglected angle: transgender. The ongoing series of self-directed photographs on this website is an expression as much as an exploration of the gendered self, a philosophical idea as well as a lived experience; this work stages the transgender body in equally antiquated, amputated, appropriated, and abandoned spaces so as to highlight its past, present, and possibilities beyond.

 

          I organize these places under four thematic umbrellas (natural, industrial, historical, and urban) in order of decreasing number of images. The natural section holds greatest personal significance, as suggested in the abundance of photographs, for trees especially have inspired in me renewed appreciation of life. Amidst lush bushes resides a Frankenstein’s monster who gardens affinity for Nature—that place of origin for all creations from which the transgender is barred to enter—and lays claim to certain natural phenomenon as its most potent metaphors. One must imagine this monster happy, for it rejoices with unruly infractions of Nature, its greatest reflections and extensions.

          Despite this apparent preference, I ask across the four categories of work not which gender is revealed or concealed in the chosen genre of representation so much as what gender reveals or conceals. Uneven manifestations of hormonal effect, in addition to elusive and periodic appearances of surgical aftermath, deny the body a loyal assignment in either pole of binary sexuation. In turn, images acquire narrative ambiguity and emotional ambivalence. For example, not all of successful attempts at public nudity signal catharsis; some are byproducts of desperate escape from abject terror that stems precisely from the pain of ontological obscurity, alleviated only briefly with the blessings of localized fear that stealthy photoshoots instill.

          Last but not least, nudity commands different—that is, not simply heightened—sensations in the practitioner as well as in the beholder, and I wanted to exploit these properties to create nude that feels transgender to both parties.

© 2020 by KAHN J. RYU