Let's start off easy.
The first image seems the most banal. But we'll get back to it.
The second is clearly far from innocent. Or rather, it is its absolute innocence that brings the tension.
Just one more innocent painting to keep you off-guard...
And here we go:Most of Melissa Steckbauer's spicier pictures are somewhere along the lines of the above. They are people in erotic/sexual situations with animals, realistic or mythical ones. Now, how in the world can she include the first painting you see here (the bear-girl) in the same series, Animalia, as the ones you've just seen?
That is precisely what gives the series such power. They demistify us by including us in the myth. This human animal becomes a being of flesh. Of flesh and myth. This teddy bear is the same girl that's having sex with the dog, moving away from the otherness as it penetrates her. Better: she and the beast are one flesh. They are no different, as if in peace with their unbearable similarity. Look at the man with the bear. What is this? A killing? Could it possibly be a hug? No, it is a hug, be it intended or not. It is flesh, it is warm and cuddly. And foreign. Although harmonious - Steckenbauer insists that for her the crucial issue in terms of eroticism is ethics, which she seems to oppose to a set of taboos. But is there really no taboo? No hidden, dangerous zone? To the contrary, the further she goes, the more mysterious and ambivalent the universe. What is this animal, and how does one distinguish it from oneself?
In the interview at the end of this post, Steckbauer talks about her appreciation for "meat in the painting". And for softness and gentleness. And one of my favorite works of hers combines these two. It is somewhat different from the others, reminding me of Man Ray, maybe. What can we do, it says, what can we do if this is the touch of flesh, the touch that seems to go through my body, to immobilize us as it multiplies the members and gets us way out into oblivion, a communication made ambiguous, an identity lost, or repainted, or foresaken, for the sake of what, of what, oh don't ask me, enjoy.
PS: I dedicate this post to the memory of my aunt, whom I first had the chance to speak to when I was 17. We spoke on the phone (she lived in another country). Her very first words to me were: "Hello young man! How are you? How is your sex life?"