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Western art


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from the Eel series, Rome



Francesca Woodman

United States of America

03 Apr 1958 - 19 Jan 1981


Francesca Woodman’s theatrical critique of self forms part of a trajectory of recording space, gesture, temporality and the bodily form within a fictive field that is epitomised through the work of artists such as Claude Cahun or Ana Mendieta. Rather than portraying the self in the strict sense of self-portraiture, Woodman seemed more intrigued with the process of dissolving or deconstructing the self, the act of disappearance, effacing the process of what constitutes portraiture and what constitutes self. Her series of self-imagery commenced at the age of 14 and continued until her untimely death at 22 by which time she had produced approximately 500 works including an artist book titled ‘Some disordered interior geometries’ 1980. Rather than forming the body, Woodman seemed intrigued by the impact of the body in space and the idea of flattening the body to fit the paper.

Staging the libidinal desire of the female subject as fetish object, Woodman’s often nude body portrays the self as becoming: becoming space, wallpaper, an angel, sand, or sculptural form, and in the process of appearing, disappearing, fragmenting or decaying. This photograph ‘From the Eel series’, Rome shows the acephalic body of Woodman on a cold mosaic floor in a writhing motion as if in the mimetic action of becoming an eel. The figure slips in and out of register, forming and un-forming, on the verge of abstraction, but still bodily. The object of her apparent desire (or desirer) emanates from an enamel bowl, enhancing its phallic symbolism and evoking the eel as fertility symbol and slippery trickster. Woodman’s use of objects as metaphors (bones, fish, melons) employs the surrealist trope of signification to great effect.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007




Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph


15.2 x 14.9 cm image; 45.7 x 45.7 x 2.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Alistair McAlpine Photography Fund 2005


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Francesca Woodman

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Donna Brett, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The surreal aesthetic', pg.113-129, Sydney, 2007, 116 (illus.), 119, 129 (illus.).