Thursday, April 30, 2009

Alt. Thinking

When I first started to experiment with depictions of what the tabloid critics liked to call 'graphic sex' in my paintings, drawings and photographs, a couple of years ago, it was assumed that I'd jumped on the 'sex positive' bandwagon. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was responding to what I saw as an increasingly wayward consumer culture not just encouraging but actually empowering young women to exploit their sexuality – without any fear of public disapproval (quite the opposite!) – in exchange for a measure of celebrity. As for those who were already celebrities, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian demonstrated that a little homespun porn could help rather than hinder a girl's career. You could even profit from it.
As I wrote at the time, "Porn's creepy sensibility has insinuated itself into every aspect of popular culture, from the fashion photographs of Terry Richardson to the pop star, Rihanna's robotic S&M stage persona. Hardcore porn has achieved legitimacy and through the internet, has found its way into the hands of millions of middle-class suburbanites who might never have risked a foray into an actual 'adult store' to buy it over the counter. With the proliferation of more sophisticated home media and easy-to-use applications, many have experimented with producing it themselves."
As Paris might have said, "Porn is, like, so hot right now." And at this junction of advertising, consumerism and a media-fueled preoccupation with celebrity, millions are already beginning to think of that once most private aspect of our lives as potential product. This sort of 'commercialised' sex intrudes in ways we might never have imagined.
Nowadays, we have a pretty good idea of how Paris, Kim and Pamela fuck – we've seen them, up close and in high def' colour – so we can't help but wonder if we 'do it' better. For many of these new-generation, media-fearless girls, sex is just another way of extending the promise of their brands and despite most of us averting our eyes (after a quick, appraising glance) from the dull brown tendrils fringing Brittany's up-skirt vage pics or Ice-T's missus, Coco's crevasse-like camel-toe, there are plenty of girls who want to emulate the various expressions of Samantha Ronson's hip, young lesbian brand or Amy Winehouse's poletarian metro-omnisexuality (perfect cred' for a louche, urban-Euro label). It's almost like another form of merchandise: never mind the t-shirt, try the sexual preference on for size.
My work has always limned not so much the junction but the collision of identity and sexuality with advertising and entertainment media. It used to be preoccupied with artifice, the facade. Big, colourful, glossy but brittle and ironic paintings have been the backbone of my output for a decade. Cinematic or billboard-like, depending on the subject, their emphasis has shifted in recent years from individual works to series, like my recent Dangerous Career Babes, that are supposed to be experienced as a single conceptual piece, like an advertising campaign. However, I began delving into porn because I saw it as a way of mapping some of media-shaped internal topography, specifically the psychological, emotional and spiritual rifts that had opened up within women of my age and younger as a result of our exposure to the relentless 'message/massage' of multiple media – media in which we have all now been reduced to the status of 'users'.
I opted not to do it at arm's length. After all, I'm an artist not an academic – I'm meant to be subjective. But I'd also found some of my sister artists' dalliances with it – from Sam Taylor-Wood's and Vanessa Beecroft's video performance pieces to Ghada Amer's needlework – just a little too prissy and purse-lipped to be interesting. So I let myself surrender to the 'Hollywood hypnenate' roles of producer, performer and consumer. And as I experimented with ways of transforming my vernacular experience of porn into art (not always succesfully) – subverting the polite conventions of watercolour painting to convey the oiled fleshy rutting of a low res' video shoot or reconceiving the garish saturation of a hardcore print spread as pallid, soft contrast, black and white photographs – I found myself re-thinking what I've been doing in all of my work.
I can't yet articulate the details. But one thing's for sure, I'm not yet done with this idea of 'artist as product, product as art'. Or with 'sex as product, product as sex', for that matter. Even if it isn't explored in broad surfaces of hard, smooth enamel paint.


Mike Wood said...

I saw your 2008 Porno series when I first came across your work. I hope you are not equating the crappy Pam, Paris and Kim stuff to your shots. Yours were were lovely, erotic, nude works. I did wonder if you were shooting them yourself though. Oh, and I am sure that P,P and K were not conscious of extending their brand when they did those videos. Well at least not Paris and Pam. Not sure on Kim.

Remittance Girl said...

Wow, Hazel,

This is a very considered blog post on the subject. I'm also not at all sure how pornstream fits into my understanding of the world. I have very mixed up feelings about it. And since I also produce what might be considered explicit product, I feel like I am constantly wandering along that line and not at all sure I'm coming up with any satisfying conclusions - just sort of prodding at the edges of the question.

It's not comfortable, but it's compelling.

Julie Levesque said...

The beauty an sophistication of this image lifts it well above porn in my mind... I think of porn as a degradation or exposure for other's pleasure. this image is so intimate, inward gazing and celebratory of women's connections.