For the artist Maria Raquel Cochez, her body is both her subject and medium; choosing to undergo and photograph 3 weight-loss surgery procedures, she catalogs a complex relationship with body image. For this series, titled “Life Performance,” and subsequent videos, paintings, and photographs, the artist courageously addresses the difficult ways in which women are expected to conform to physical ideals.
For “Life Performance,” Cochez relinquishes all control, surrendering both her body and her camera, leaving others to cut, transform, and document her as she undergoes a breast reconstruction and implant and gastric bypass. Each photograph poignantly blurs the line between performance and experience, boldly welcoming the public into a profoundly private emotional space.
Four years after “Life Performance,” Cochez presents “Belly,” a gorgeous video capturing the effects of surgery and life on her midsection. Seen floating in a full bathtub, her excess flesh is seen as touchingly soft yet powerful; isolated from the rest of her body, it seems to breathe independently, rising from the water and sinking back again. On the righthand side of the frame, a child plays with the female belly, innocently exploring the space that gave him life. He kneads it like bread, then strokes it carefully.
The work is painfully moving for the artist’s total surrender to her craft and audience; as viewers, we bear witness to her insides, to folds of her naked skin. For this reason, her impressive body of work seem less like an exploitation of the self than a miraculously intimate confessional. Despite their potentially painful content, her creations are strangely warm and generous; for example, in Life Performance No.1, romantic black and white images of her smiling face and her soft backside gently bookend the frighteningly colorful photographs of her surgery.
Ultimately, the work reads as a richly nuanced love letter to the human body, one to which all humans, regardless of experience, can relate. Take a look at Cochez’s paintings, videos, and photographs after the jump, including her uncomfortably, painfully seductive self-portraits of eating binges.