Tuesday, January 01, 2008

No Place To Hide

Today's entry is my 250th, something of a milestone for someone who has always been uneasy with words.
Writing is a medium which I've had to learn in public. Mostly, I use it to explore my work and myself. Inevitably, because my work is autobiographical, the former is where intriguing issues of identity – specifically, sexual identity – and personal candour collide.
Sex pervades my art. Unfortunately, art that's overtly sexual is too often overlooked by the cultural establishment. They like inference, but not stuff that's too real or confronting (especially from women). In state-run institutions, collections of erotic work are often hidden away and revealed only to approved scholars and only by appointment.
Talking about a current exhibition of 2,500 years of erotic art at the Barbican Centre, in London, Seduced: Art And Sex From Antiquity To Now, the Centre's Head of Galleries made sure she defined the show as anything but sexual. "This is not an exhibition about sex and it's not an exhibition about pornography. It's a serious work of art history and curatorship," she declared. "It's an exhibition about how artists presented sex as a fundamental experience which connects everybody." Even the Barbican website describes the show as "the historical and cultural framework to explore the boundaries of acceptability in art." It's the country's biggest exhibition of erotic art and yet in all their references to it, the institution tries to distance itself from the real stuff of it, dumbing it down with pseudo-intellectual Newspeak. They try to pretend it's all about context, not content. No sex, no emotion, no sticky mess.
The greasy rut of real intercourse, the squish and ooze of shared and singular boldily fluids, troubles curators and critics most – literally and metaphorically. Intimate self-expression of any kind is especially difficult for them to take in the autobiographical context of a young woman. The anguished self-portraits of Frida Kahlo still make people cringe, as do Sophie Calle's brittle, forensic photographs and typed confessions. It's almost as if something sacred – something taboo – is transgressed when women depict their sexuality, along with the actual physical expressions of it, in their art.
Sex is still subversive, despite the ubiquity of porno-chic in advertising and entertainment. I'm repelled by the empty, amateur, exhibitionistic porn that women post on the web: graphic, self-conscious humping – "Look, Ma, I'm fisting!" – with hairy-arsed husbands or spotty boyfriends or bovine girlfriends (or all of them together) intermingled with happy snaps of their pets, suburban mall shopping and ten-pin bowling. The photos, like the clumsy MySpace-like pages to which they're posted, are neither expressive nor sexy. There's no thought, no reflection, no deeper narrative. Like professional porn, the only point is his final oafish grunt and her pig-stuck squeal during the inevitable facial money-shot.
I paint and draw graphic sex. Like the suburban hausfrau, I am almost always a 'character' in it. But what I'm doing – and why I'm doing it – is very different. I'm offering up my psyche and my self within the act. (I'm also just a tad better on the technical side of things). Sex is a symbolic device to demonstrate just how starkly I'm ready to reveal myself. It has nothing at all to do with exhibitionism. It's intimate and reflective. Each painting or drawing is an excerpt from an ongoing, multi-tiered (think hypertext) narrative of my life, offering different (sometimes contradicory) facets of my self, my sexuality, my emotional experiences.
The only way work like this can be effective is if nothing is held back – ever. To hide any part of my self or my story simply because of shyness or discomfort – not least the discomfort of others – would be wrong. The work would be leached of the very qualities that distinguish it as art.

3 comments:

Jennie said...

I hope that with time I can explore a sense of the freedom of expression that you have mastered in your works. I think we do need to be more up front in challenging these conventions - sexual identity is a key issue and we need to confront it, to try to understand it and to identify ourselves.

Descartes said...

Is that Rihanna back there??

gregory said...

you tweeted this today, may 2010? ok. i saw that show at barbican .. boring, banal, pointless except for subject ...

also made me wonder, would anybody ever have known who marlene dumas is if she hadn't painted sexuality? me thinks not.

good promo does not often = quality