her demilitarized zone, 2021

her demilitarized zone is the title of a singular and unique steel plate sculpture, the beginning stanza of a poem, and the title of my fourth solo exhibition with Silverlens Galleries, Manila, Philippines (November 25 – December 22, 2021). The words below are my artist statement for this exhibition. As each body of work is interconnected, this statement for HDZ also lays bare the interstices and conceptual underpinnings that drive me to address contested sites of the body inextricably intertwined with the militarization of images, language, and ideologies.
HDZ - Gina Osterloh
The formation of her demilitarized zone crystallized with a photograph created at the beginning of the Covid-19 closures– Mirror Woman (2020) addresses the physical and psychological sites of skin, torso, the face, and eyes. Created in Spring 2020 at the beginning of our painful Covid-19 pandemic, with each gesture of cutting reflective tape and pressing against my skin, I covered my torso and face, including orifices of the auditory, speech, and sight to conjure contradictions embedded in “borders”– boundaries between self and Other, and potentially national borders. Congruous with the arc of photographs leading up to this work, Mirror Woman refutes portraiture’s innate ability to present a legible subject, resisting pre-conceived notions of identity such as race and gender that one may project onto a body. In my photographs, I have developed simple (and more complex) ways to interrupt this seemingly natural process of identification: turning my head away from the camera, camouflage, or wrapping my body in tape.  These methods that deny “readability” are strategies of refusal, protection, and care. As tape becomes a surrogate for skin, Mirror Woman deflects assumptions based on vision.  Created at the beginning of the Covid-19-pandemic which shut down movement, travel, and the ability to embrace– Mirror Woman amplifies notions of skin as armor and the desire to shine bright, to connect across nation state borders. Eyes sealed shut, the seeming inability to breathe through the nose, mouth taped– her featureless shape also evokes woman as monstrous. Mirror Woman activates how a viewer may determine who belongs and who is considered alien.
In Shutter Vision (2019) my jaw holds the shutter release for the camera. (A large format 4x5” film camera.) Closing my jaw, teeth biting down, an image is formed eyes closed. How do we see each other? Is it possible to embrace each other physically, virtually, spiritually – like a photograph even if for a fleeting moment in time and space? How do we cut through ideological divisions? 
Echoing the body wrapped in black tape and holding the shutter release in my mouth in Shutter Vision (is it a grenade? BDSM gag?) her demilitarized zone ________ pleasure after centuries of war they saw each other without weapon he wept (2021) is both sculpture and poem in flux– 17 solid steel bars echo a staccato of war, brutality, the police beating stick. Symbols of minimalism, violence, and power scarred by the artist’s hand, my hands holding the bright hot white light of the welder’s torch, a slow writing of duration.

her demilitarized zone (2021) is the steel plate with welded text, related to the steel poem that stretches across the gallery floor, the rectangular plate is a condensed marker, solid and heavy, the title of the exhibition. The steel plate is the dimension of a traditional darkroom photograph (14 inches x 11 inches) the process akin to a photograph. 
Both the steel plate and 17 steel bar sculpture with welded text began with the etymology of the word “photography” to write, draw, or record with light. Akin to analog darkroom photography processes, each work also went through a series of water and chemical baths (black oxide) to create a uniform dark tonal range, akin to both minimalist sculpture and mechanical machine part. A slow, steadfast process with heavy focus – each work is a singular and unique.
Her demilitarized zone does not heal – instead lays bare our current cultural moment on a global scale– scarred, wounded, seeking touch, in need of acute love. At once legible and illegible, words wrap, keloid, and mutate symbols of power. 
At times, my photographs and sculptures adopt materials and forms that may reference fetish, BDSM practices: tape which wraps the body, a mouth gag. The image is fetish.  My images do not show acts of sex. Root definitions of the word ‘fetish’ are braided with etymologies of the image.  Fetish: “An object, the possession of which is believed to procure the services of a spirit lodged within it,” shares origins with ‘magic,' the Portuguese word feitiço, and the Latin root words for ‘artificial’ and ‘to make’ facere. I simplify, amplify, lay bare the photographic field, a terrain of power – our global cultural and political landscape – dominance and submission, the two inextricably intertwined through looking. The photograph. Pressing Against Looking (2019) – depicts long black poles press into my eyes, activating the physical and conceptual pressure and pleasure of both looking and being looked at. The frenzy of vision.

Psychic Drop, Pink and Gray (2021) refer to the act of camouflage as a momentary loss of one’s individuality, a psychic drop in ego. A starting point early in my photographic oeuvre, this line of inquiry persists throughout my work and originates from both personal experiences growing up mixed-race Filipino German American simultaneously experiencing passing and not-passing for a singular or particular racial identity and reading philosophy and texts that consider camouflage as not a tactic of war, but instead a strategy to inhabit (and understand) other points of view. To embody space, perceptual viewpoints beyond one’s inherited skin color or skin consciousness. In a recent conversation with curator and writer Yael Buencamino, Yael remarked, “Photography creates the potential for a momentary psychic drop, loss of ego.” 

Psychic Drop, like a photograph may be a fleeting shift in consciousness, yet key to de-weaponizing ways of seeing.
In our fractured world pushed to rigid fixed extremes may her demilitarized zone (HDZ) infinitely grow, dismantle symbols and language of war, may we see the day that HDZ dissipates, is no longer needed. May we unleash a duration of love.
–Gina Osterloh
Thank you to the phenomenal Silverlens Galleries team through this exhibition and from the beginning. Yael Buencamino for the patient, inquisitive, astute conversations via Zoom across time zones prior to the exhibition. Technicians and artists in Ohio including Bri Gluszak, Andrew Newbold, Paul Simon for technical guidance. Beautiful filmmaker and editor Dean Taylor. Production assistant Amanda Miller for media content. Media video soundtrack excerpt by dear friend and Los Angeles based artist Gabie Strong with her record label Crystalline Morphologies. Louis and Katya of Pioneer Studios. Artist and designer Josh Shaddock who designed such an elegant poster, artist Gloria Shows for technical oversight of the poster. The poster is the text key and layout of the 17 steel bar text sculpture. Thank you for generous support from The Ohio State University Women’s Place Grant, The Ohio State University College of Arts & Sciences Completion and New Project Grants, and The Ohio Arts Council for support of production.