The Surreal Body: Ambera Wellmann's Instagram

My right thumb slides straight up, moving the screen up with it. I hover my finger back to the bottom of the screen only to slide back up again. Repeat ad nauseum. The only interruption when my thumb comes down, twice, in rapid succession, to like a picture. A finger digging into a kiwi, penetrating its skin, leaving an imprint. 

The parallel between my finger moving through my Instagram feed and Ambera Wellmann’s posts becomes apparent in moments like this one. When her photographs—rather, posts—alert me to my body’s interaction with everyday objects around me. I visit her account often enough to notice that the photo of her finger impaling a kiwi is gone. I try not to feel upset about this; the purpose of an Instagram account is ingrained in the ephemeral. Yet, I still feel like Wellmann’s taken something from me—I want the image back. But, as the objects she interacts with rot away, so too are her posts fleeting. 

Posts on Wellmann’s Instagram usually fall into one of three categories: the body as food; food as bawdy; and contortion of the body. She cycles through these main tropes to curate a collection, an artist statement. The distorted figures that depict bodies as food blur the lines of what is to be consumed. Reality is further distorted when food acts as a placeholder for the inedible, resulting in the surreal. The interchangeability, objects swapped for each other, creates a feeling of unease, like voyeurism. 

A week ago I showed Wellmann’s account to a friend of mine. I was overzealous in my approach, expecting her to find the posts as intriguing as I do; instead, she turned her head and remarked at the “grossness” of the posts, only agreeing to look at the posts that didn’t feature transplanted fingernails. All of a sudden, I saw the account in a new light. I was momentarily embarrassed that I had subjected her to these images that—at second glance—certainly are “gross.” How had I not noticed that before? Maybe I’ve followed the account for long enough that I was eased into these images and their “unnaturalness?” 

But for me, Wellmann’s posts transcend the “gross” and become fascinating, or, at a minimum, humorous. If  beauty only exists with its negation, ugliness, I realize that this grossness can only exist with its counterpart, comfort. The comfort I derive from Wellmann’s posts is my own body reacting to what I know to be true: our bodies, bound and packaged, are consumed as if they are food. Seeing food treated as body suggests how unusual this practice is. I have always found the paintings of Francis Bacon to be gross, but without the sense of comfort I feel in Wellman’s images. Despite this reaction to Bacon’s work, I admit that he’s a brilliant painter, there are even some paintings of his I very much like. But they always make me distinctly uncomfortable. It’s the violence of the paintings that I find unsettling. There’s a violent masculinity in the forms and an anger to the lines. This quality of violence is missing in Wellmann’s work and allows me to get close enough to them to transcend the ugliness and find comfort in them.

The disparity between Wellmann and Bacon’s “grossness” can be compared to the difference between male surrealists’ sculptures of the female body and female surrealists’ sculptures of the female body. The former comes across as objectifying, the latter, humorous, “genuine,” imaginative, and knowing. Welmann’s work is a direct descendent of Meret Oppenheim’s and Elsa Schiaparelli’s. And just as Oppenheim and Schiaparelli, Wellmann is on the “right side” of representation of the female form. On a platform ridden with casual and blatant misogyny, I take repose in Wellmann’s posts. 

On another level, the ability to get close to the images is a product of the medium. By housing the posts on Instagram, they can be viewed in the privacy of the home. We can screenshot to save the image, and revisit it often. I wish I’d screenshotted the kiwi. In this way, the images become democratic. Unlike Wellmann’s oil painting, which I want but cannot afford, I have unlimited access to her Instagram. The lack of monetary incentive is what makes Wellmann’s Instagram truly conceptual. 

I’ve now spent too much time scrolling through Instagram instead of writing. In doing so, my writing has become disjointed. Sentences as posts, strung together into a feed. There’s a difficulty in operating this way, very quickly the individual posts distance from one another, with the content jumping around and a common thread lost. Wellmann is able to hang on to a common thread throughout her posts, making a paragraph out of sentences, so to speak. Something that not many can do with this platform. 

Tatum Dooley is a writer living in Toronto. Check out her online at www.tatumdooley.com and on twitter @spacemarmalade