Isabella’s earliest works, following her graduation in 2001, were largely textual, interventions and performances. These include:
Whores (2001), letter-pressed cards left and intervention // Perruqué (2001-5), textual and strategic interventions // The Disappearance of Sophie Calle (2001), performance // Honeylips (2005), performance // The Guillotine I Had So Long Awaited (2001), performance // panthercatcher (2001-2), interventions // I Tried To Speak (Foolishly) About Love (2002), performance // Tell Your Heart That I’m The One (2005), intervention // I Will Always Love You (2004), intervention // Your Love Is My Reason For Living (2003), digital print
Some of these works can be seen below. Isabella’s work at this time was concerned mainly with intimacy, sweet nothings and desire and the expression of these in language, touch and sound.
The Guillotine I Had So Long Awaited
Around his neck he wore a red cinch, tied tightly enough to be uncomfortable, a ceinture du victime. I settled him in front of the device, arranged his head and neck to fit perfectly within the hole and, at the optimum moment, I brought down the guillotine.
Not, in fact, the reminiscences of an executioner in any formal sense, but a photographer, wielder of an alternative instrument of death. I beheaded him in portraiture. This is unsurprising. Photography is after all the theatre of death, it’s perverse confusion attesting simultaneous existence and non-existence of an object. The voluptuous shifting of the camera mechanism is so easily the metallic plate of the guillotine. The photograph and the execution are a site of bliss, breakage, punctuation, each a publication of the private.
The detail – during the Directoire, it was fashionable to wear a red ribbon around the neck in memory of the guillotined.
There is a romantic story of a woman I know who wears a scarlet velvet choker. Her grandmother told her stories of her own fabulous childhood – a childhood in which her mother had worn a neck-corset of rubies in commemoration of a beheaded ancestress. The necklace had accompanied the exiled family from the court of Capet to the Russian court before the Napoleonic wars. In early 1917, the family fled again from a new revolution back to France, to Paris the city of exiles, where the necklace was eventually sold. The great-grandmother wore a red silk ribbon for the rest of her life. The grandmother had a circlet made of her own red hair, which she wore in her glamorous youth. The granddaughter wears a choker of scarlet velvet.
It would seem right here to say something of the relation of the photograph to the erotic portrait, and how the two things – death and the quality of eroticism – are so closely linked together, but I cannot.
All I can speak of is Bataille’s verbal photograph (the arrestation of a second forever trapped) of the act of sexual penetration: his narrator describing the cut, the bliss of sexuality. And the ecstatic nature of wearing this fetish, which both does and does not substitute for an act which both did and did not take place.
A fissure takes the spectator outside the frame in order to animate it in an encounter with the absolute particular. As though wearers of the ceinture are proclaiming the site of their own conception and simultaneous death. Almost as if they are saying fuck me to death.
From an initial experiment when viewers were invited to remove red ribbons from a wall and tie them, tightly, in a bow around the neck without record, to a photographic session in which the wearer was positioned as transgressor (by approaching the inarticulable logic of the snuff movie), the perverse erotics of death in the photograph have been charted.