Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Displacing Identity

"I woke up thinking about how badly I want you to bang me," the message on Facebook read. It was from a beautiful American woman, six or seven years older than me, with whom I'd been exchanging notes about art and other stuff for about a week. She had mentioned once in passing that she was straight.
Her frankness surprised me. It also got me hot. (Those last five words are less forthright than they might appear.)
In my art, I explore how modern female identities respond to the ambivalent, highly sexualised visual narratives of advertising and 'mass' entertainment. The attributes of my paintings are designed to coincide with our expectations of 'mass' media – high def', glossy, larger-than life, with expanses of vivid colour – and in most of them, I cast myself as an idealised everywoman of indeterminate age, lean, sleek, and attentively accessorised.
Nothing in them is filtered through the decaying signals of late '70s feminism. Nothing is politically correct. And just as in the thousands of images that flood our cognitive bandwidth each day, nothing is quite as it first appears.
My various identities – woman, artist, agitator, sex object, to name just a few – are entangled with not only my art but the words, my own and others, that encircle it. It's hard, even for me, sometimes, to separate them. What might start as a provocation within the work can just as easily evolve as an expression of something more intimate and personal – or degenerate into a joke.
My 2008 exhibition of photographs, PORNO, was an example of this. With the acceptance of hardcore pornography into the mainstream – young starlets starved of attention releasing their own sex tapes, a famed Italian fashion label running a full page ad in Vogue featuring a model's pubes shaped to resemble its logo – I surrendered the detached observation of the artist to become a performer, photographing myself masturbating and having lesbian sex.
It was intended, in part, as an ironic piss-take. But it came across to many as documentary, even when I made it plain that half the images were, in fact, intimate snapshots taken by anonymous friends of people I'd never met – lovers, spouses, sex-workers, and adult performers. I'd simply 'recontextualised' them within my own fictive narrative in much the same way we acquire and reconfigure imagery we come across online.
As I wrote in A Few Words About PORNO, "I decided to 'curate' these images and include them with my own work: I refined and reprinted them and in so doing, ‘appropriated’ them to form part of my own critical experience of the new porno’ aesthetic."
PORNO
turned into a something of a traumatic, risky mind-fuck. It upset many people's perceptions of me both as an artist and as a woman. Inevitably, many made inaccurate assumptions about my sexual identity, which is, as so many describe it on Facebook, 'complicated'. But the images were like a photographic Rorschach test: they revealed more about those who viewed them than about me.
I've grown more comfortable with the constant, subtle shifts of position and identity demanded by my art, writing and public persona. I'm told they can be confusing, confronting or contradictory. They're meant to be.

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