June 24, 2012 Author: Cass Bird
Rewilding is the result of a project by American photographer Cass Bird which brought several women into a natural area of Sassafrass, Tennessee. A confrontational exploration of sexual identity, many of the women have highly ambiguous forms: strong physical shapes, square jawlines and short hair. By showing them often bare-breasted and wearing thick white petticoats, she pokes further at ideas of gender.
The name itself, rewilding, offers an interpretation of returning to the most basic forms of humanity, freed from its constraints of socialisation and the rules and roles of civilised life. Yet, perhaps ironically, the message behind Rewilding does not feel like it comes naturally because of all the artifices behind it, including the intentional selection of models and their deliberate costuming. The mechanisms behind the message are such visible scaffolding that the viewer must also consider the role of their presence: if a natural vision cannot be acquired organically, but only through such a manicured effort, what does that say about the author’s opinion of nature?
Showing the women interacting with this environment, climbing trees, cutting each other’s hair, roasting marshmallows on a massive bonfire, and relaxing in a sauna together, Bird offers a glimpse into the ways in which these women interact with each other in a playful, gentle, and even genuine way. She captures their images in a sympathetic form, allowing their individual beauties to speak for themselves. Some of her portraits wonderfully show a celebration of femininity, even in the context of androgyny. The project does ultimately feel like it was cut too short, however, missing the depth to get to the root of the question freed from Bird’s overeager curatorial hand – for example, does a book with 40 images really need 3 images showing women peeing while standing, in order to make itself understood?
Rewilding is for sale from Damiani Editore.
Reviewed by Katherine Oktober Matthews.