Anita Beckers

Vee Speers

14 Feb - 05 Apr 2008

© Vee Speers
"The Birthday Party"

15.02.2008 - 05.04.2008
Opening reception: February 15th, 2008 at 7.30 pm

You Aren’t Happy At All!
Vee Speers’ “Birthday Party” Series

The list of photo artists who have taken the theme of childhood for themselves is long. That’s understandable, for it is a rewarding photographic subject. What’s fascinating is the position of in-between, the ambiguity of being a child: The child’s ego is fragile, there are plenty of options. Is this only at the beginning: in a paradisiacal state, as has often been written?
When Vee Speers places children in front of the same white wall to photograph them in their costumes for the “Birthday Party” series, one might at first wonder about this visual concept. We tend to associate childhood with spontaneous movement rather than immobility. This is different with Vee Speers: Her models act within a strictly laid-out frame.
Lisette Model was one of the first female photo artists to take pictures of young people not only in their freedom of movement but also in regard to their future roles. Childhood is a period of time in which one practices taking on roles – something which Vee Speers’ “Birthday Party” series also explores. It’s not that their role corsets are already threatening to overpower them, since the children depicted here are anything but free and innocent. They stand in their fantastic costumes, but don’t look very cheerful. “Aren’t you happy at all?“, you want to ask them. And although some of them are even smiling or singing, they don’t appear to be truly happy.
They open themselves to the camera with gazes that say to us grown-ups: Look at us. We know much more than you think. Are they representatives of the much-cited “lost childhood” that photographers such as Achim Lippoth have portrayed in such a captivating way? The Cologne artist photographed children with expressions full of hate, children much too grown-up for their age, for example, such as the Chinese gymnasts he portrayed in his series titled “L ́homme Machine“ – machine people. They are mutants of the adult world, premature ones, but still in the bodies of children. The guests of the imaginary birthday party have not yet entirely detached themselves from their childhood. It is not childlike happiness that is revealed in their regard, but pressing openness.
Carefree childhood, purity,’s all a cliché – that’s what these image impart. Irritation is programmatic here; Vee Speers’ art is meant to confuse: Be it the small child soldier – does he have a real machine gun? – or the girl opening her palms as if to say: All I have in this world is myself. As openly as they look at the camera, the children reveal very little of themselves. Standing in front of a white background, they are symbols of...they won’t say of what.
And this is precisely what makes these portraits so magnetic: The children do not divulge their secret, the reason for their forlornness. “I’m interested in the psychology of human nature – what we really are beneath the surface,” Speers once said. Yet she creates her art in the certainty of never being able to expose what lies beneath.
“I wanted to capture the last moments of childhood by means of an imaginary party,” says Speers. What she has cast in strange, pale colour photos is an ambivalent state between freedom and role play, between spontaneity and premonition (later on I will be a sad old witch!), between the world of children and the world of adults. The childlike game of dressing up, of putting on costumes, reinforces the surreal tone of the series. Boxing gloves alone don’t make a boxer, a helmet doesn’t make a Roman legionnaire. That’s what Vee Speers tells us. But we should indeed think more frequently about the dreams we have.

Marc Peschke

Tags: Lisette Model, Vee Speers