Originally published in ARTLIES Magazine Issue 65 Spring 2010
By Tucker Neel
Lube is a fun and provocative exhibition of three female artists: Samantha Magowan, Kiki Seror, and Tameka Norris, brought together by male curator Martin Durazo for the purpose of exploring the perennial question of the objectified and sexualized female body in art. The artists address this concern with disparate media, but speak with one voice, declaring that no one is going to tell them what a female body should or shouldn’t do.
Samantha Magowan’s contribution takes the form of both sculpture and photographs. You’re Only Young Once, a totemic mass of grey, white, and platinum blonde wigs embedded with childhood objects like dolls heads and My Little Ponies, projects a feeling of something haunting from the past. While cobbled together found object work like this can come off as overly nonchalant or even half-assed, Magowan pulls it off by remaining earnest, evoking thoughts of decadent beauty, loss, decay, a sort of Fall of the House of Usher aesthetic. In another series of work, Magowan presents The Top 10 Artists I Would Most Like to Fuck, and The Top 10 Artists I Would Least Like to Fuck, two photos of a half naked lady, her back inscribed with the names of notable artists. I question if these works go further than conjuring a chuckle based in art-insider smugness. However, seeing Mike Kelly’s name crossed out in favor of Paul McCarthy in the Least Like photo is hilarious and perhaps worthy of a few more minutes of contemplation.
Kiki Seror’s video work uses the process of erasure and digital manipulation to reinterpret the visual pleasures of pornography. In Phantom Fuck a grid of 15 penises rhythmically pound away into black nothingness, their intended orifices erased by the artist. Complete with a soaring heroic soundtrack, the work is truly mesmerizing and hilarious, rendering each cock a pathetic yet determined actor in marathon copulation. In Seror’s Paradise Lost a woman appears orgasmically interacting with a pulsating, chromatically smeared spectrum of light. Like André Kertész’s surrealist photos of nude women with absurdly elongated or truncated limbs, the piece explores uncanny notions of a body without limits, in Seror’s case, a body reduced to pure light, pure spectacle. This is by far the most intriguing work in the show, allowing the viewer to ruminate on the intersections of visual and sexual pleasure.
Tameka Norris’ installation, consisting of a wallpaper of enlarged American currency cascading onto the floor, acts as a backdrop for interested viewers to pose in front of. The scene is framed on both sides by monitors playing the artist’s music video where Norris, rapping to her own lyrics, enacts recognizable vignettes from hip hop videos while bumping and grinding, like a dancer in a Lil’ Wayne video, on multi-million dollar artworks in UCLA’s sculpture garden. The lyrics put an art-world twist on rap braggaddocio: “I’m that black Cindy Sherman and that little Kara Walker. Basquiat resurrected from the dead motherfucka.” Given the influence of art schools like UCLA’s in churning out art stars, like the music industry produces one hit wonders, Norris’ critique, while somewhat one-dimensional, is actually cutting and appropriate. The installation, including the video, was first used as part of UCLA’s 2008 Undergraduate Scholarship Exhibition, where rich benefactors took pictures with their scholarship recipients in front of the gaudy backdrop. Knowing this makes me wonder if the installation would be even more effective now if Norris included these photos as a sort of documentation of the intersection of art, fame, money and academia.
Perhaps we are just so used to both female and male bodies in every visualized sexual situation, that there really is no “shocking” depiction of sexuality anymore – at least not in the exceptionally liberal art world. Jesse Helms’ ghost does, however, still haunt the NEA and popular notions of feminist art. If Lube makes one point clear, it’s that the new millennium finds the female body in fine art unrestrained by any and all puritanical iconoclasm that might linger from by-gone eras. How this will contribute to a new feminist discourse has yet to be determined. But if we are lucky the entertaining, humorous, and pleasurable nature of the work won’t change a bit.