Decontextualizing the body: Ellie Krakow’s “Mirrored Back”

By Tessa Jillson


Influenced by the metal support structures that hold up ancient artifacts in museums, assistant

professor of art Ellie Krakow began to construct armatures inspired by her own arms.


Krakow said she become obsessed with these museum armatures because they “have this super important job, which is to be very tender and very supportive, but also they’re supposed to be completely invisible. ... It’s like they’re showcasing something that’s been taken out of context, like historical context and geographical context, and put in a new position, but they’re supposed to do it without being noticed.”


Krakow worked on the project for five years, taking photos of support structures such as parts of the body or objects like tree trunks, mimicking these photos in obscure or abstracted sculptures with the same dimensions, and then taking photos of her body performing the sculptures’ gestures. Krakow calls her process “circular,” constructing “image-object pairings” to design a “call-and-response dialogue” where objects and images are grouped together to establish a relationship.


While working on the project, Krakow ended up taking a photograph that reminded her of a human back. She thought about how the back, in many ways, is more of a support than the arms since the back does the job of supporting you and the arms do the job of supporting things around you.


Krakow’s arm armature project eventually grew into a new series embodying the same ideas around support structures and the body, but changing the form by generating visual constraints to decontextualize her artwork.


Krakow displayed her new series, “Mirrored Back,” at Framingham State’s Mazmanian Art Gallery on Sept. 25, setting up her artwork to further demonstrate her message.


Krakow placed the sculpture of a belly button behind the backdrop of her back to spotlight this idea that if the back is in the front then, the belly button is the “back of the back.” The backdrop of her back is at the forefront of the room, acting as a pun of the back, since the photograph of her back is actually there to stand in for the backdrop.


Assistant professor of music Christian Gentry said, “It’s interesting how I went around clockwise ... so I didn’t go right to that backdrop. By the time I got back around, I got the pun. The thing that’s weird about it is I didn’t go to [the backdrop of the back] first. ... I think it’s because it seemed out of context” with the rest of her artwork, which was displayed on the wall.


Krakow’s new series, “Mirrored Back” started over the summer as a way to manipulate, insert, and reimagine the body as a “decontextualized neutral site.”


Krakow isolates the context of her artwork by using the backdrop to act as a neutral zone. For instance, a backdrop is usually used as a green screen, causing the background to disappear, she said.


Krakow used the example of jewelry advertisements, stating, “There’s just a hand or maybe just a finger with a ring and some colored background. You’re not supposed to know where it is. It’s not supposed to matter to you. It’s supposed to take the context away ... The background has the job to make the object look fantastic. Like they’ll choose a color that looks nice with the model’s skin, but we’re not supposed to be aware of it.”


Her subject matter revolves around this idea of invisibility as a call to focus on the structures that are designed to be unnoticed and taken for granted, like the museum armatures.


Krakow said the backdrop of her back “is a move to ask you to notice this thing that you have decided not to notice by choice. ... Our culture makes us decide that certain things are not to be seen and not to be thought about,” exhibiting images of bodies that are considered beautiful, marketable, or perfect. Her intention, she wrote, was to take support structures that “allow things (that are fragmented, displaced, flawed, etc.) to seem whole, centered, and perfect.”


To demonstrate her point, the backdrop of Krakow’s back is a close-up depiction of her pores, stretch marks, and freckles – things that are normally photoshopped out of professional photographs.


Krakow said although the colors are usually pulled from the photos, she also uses colors such as beige, gray, and purple in her sculptures as a way to question the nonexistent neutrality of the skin in society and a way to generate a conversation about systematic oppression.


Her other pieces include backdrops with rectangular holes cut in the middle. These pieces are propped up by wooden and clay legs acting as support structures, while the hole in the backdrop acts as a window to her photographs. Her sculptures are the same size as the hole in the backdrops and are responding to the photos but aren’t direct copies. Instead, the sculptures are there to exhibit the imperfections of the body, illustrating the rigidity of the spine, the roughness of skin, and the twisting and the folding of clothing.


Krakow said the legs of the backdrop pieces and the wall sculptures are made of the same mixed materials, such as wood, wire mesh, and cardboard. They are then coated with two epoxy clays, Magic-Sculpt and Magic-Smooth.


Junior Brianna Medina said, “It’s super artistic. It’s not easy making ceramic molds, and they look very clean. ... They’re all rectangular and it’s hard to have a clean ceramic mold. Ceramics is really messy as a medium.”

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