Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Re-Nude: Part 2

*My apologies for the shitty photography.

Continuing what I loved about Re-Nude, here is part of Jenna Lyles' series, "Fempire / Night Vision."

I didn't immediately love this. Actually, when I first saw this hasty-looking display, I exclaimed, "What the crap?" But then I was drawn in by this glittery weirdness:

You're looking at strips of holographic stretch fabric that you might have seen on an ice-dancing or stripper costume from 1994, sewn down only on the top edge and hanging in loose strips. Above that is black fabric with a chain-mail-type texture exposing a grid of sheer black mesh beneath vinyl-type overlay. Mounted over that is a developed Polaroid with a blank image. To the left, between the fabric sections, are three repeated copies of a photo of a woman in a red wig and cosplay-esque purple lingerie, in a cartoonish "sneaking" pose. The photos are sewn on with orderly zig-zag machine stitching. The whole piece is sewn down to a raw-edged irregular scrap of canvas about the size of a notebook page and stapled to the wall on the top edge only.

The piece is obviously very playful and flashy, like a toy. But it isn't candy-colored and well-packaged like a lot of neo-Pop art and Tokyo Pop. It looks like a kid made it (sort of), but it doesn't fall into the category of cutesy childhood fetish hipster art, like the endearingly awkward, big-eyed, wolf-hide-wearing, lost-little-girl illustrations on Etsy. It incorporates crafty elements, like exaggerated stitching and use of cloth but seems divorced from homemaking, stuffed sculpture or clothing design.

What we have, then, feels very uneasy. My first instinct was to suggest that the artist either make the pieces smaller and more precious/sculptural, or large and numerous enough that they feel like a visual assault. But I keep coming back to the size and presentation because they don't resolve themselves and that experience feels challenging and fresh. And although the fabrics are wonky and unfinished, and the photos look homemade, the regular stripes and grids anchor the piece while the repetition of the colorful photos create an exciting rhythm. The small size also makes the piece seem half-hidden and private, like a radical fantasy told in a quiet voice. Functionally, the canvas is a tiny playground for the tiny redheaded heroine.

She shows up in all the pieces in the series, usually duplicated:

"Fempire:" I take it to mean, "female empire." So the canvases, as her playground, could be that empire. She could be suggesting that a woman's empire is an imaginary realm that she crafts for herself and rules like a superhero. Totally empowerful, right? But why the stripper clothes and fabrics, and why the implied male gaze? Why does she repeat the images of the woman, which usually serves to cheapen the image and efface the original, a la Andy Warhol's Marilyn? Could she be taking the opposite approach, that repetition glorifies the individual through syndicating and branding oneself? From a marketing perspective, the model has put her best foot forward by decorating herself, then has reproduced that image and displayed it in a dazzling peacock-like array.

What's more, the woman doesn't seem to rule the space, exactly. She seems to be involved in some sort of covert guerrilla tactics, which would imply oppression and fighting back. Is she trying to take back her own psychic space? Is she experiencing conflict about her own sexual fantasy? The fabrics-- purple lame, sparkly black fishnet and black lace-- suggest sexuality that caters to a male gaze. Is this the "fempire," the power of pleasing others? And is this the conflict she is engaged in? The other fabric, canvas, at first suggests a traditional artist's canvas. But in the context of covert guerrilla tactics it suggests military warfare as well. The juxtaposition of the sparkly fabric and the canvas, then, brings to mind the quote, "love is a battlefield," but also suggests common realities in which female sexuality and sex work incur violence, and where warfare breeds prostitution and sexual violence toward women.

"Night Vision." She actually wears what could be night vision goggles here. I also think the title, "night vision," refers to the nighttime fabrics that would be seen in a club or bedroom. The split title seems to reinforce the notion of conflict between female sexual domain and violence. It could simply be a reference to the conflicting urges to be vulnerable and open, versus guarded and strong when it comes to sex.

I just looked up Jenna Lyles after writing this post and it turns out she co-organized Tick Tock Blume, a small Kulture Klash type festival with the theme, "time," and her co-organizer was... Liz Vaughan, the subject of my last post and my other favorite artist from Re-Nude. Wow.

More on what I loved from Re-Nude coming up in another post!

*If you like the artwork above you might also enjoy work by Hannah Hoch, Wangechi Mutu

Edited to add: My husband has this to say about these pieces: "...I like it. It looks like a Trapper-Keeper."

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