There is an incredible moment during one of the opening scenes of Sick (1997) in which performance artist Bob Flanagan sings his own version of the classic Mary Poppins’ song, replacing the nonsense title with “Supermasochistic Bob with Cystic Fibrosis” an extract of which is below:
um diddle-iddle-iddle I’m gonna die
um diddle-iddle-iddle I’m gonna die
Forty years have come and gone and Bob is still around he’s tied up by his ankles and he’s hanging upside down a lifetime of infection and his lungs all filled with phlegm the CF would have killed him if it weren’t for S&M.
This song lives in my head and I find myself coming back to it again and again. The wry humour with which Bob approaches his debilitating illness and its symptomatic relief through kink.
A sense of humour is essential to both sex and SEX. Certainly this show is built upon a wink, a knowing look. The knowledge that ‘sex is everything, and everything is sex’. Not the sexy valentines, fake Ann Summers kind of sex but the ways in which sex is intimately wrapped around every aspect of our lives – that it’s funny and gross and hot and delicious and fucked up and perverted and, and, and...
I won’t go into too many references and over conceptualise this show, particularly because the way it came into existence felt more like desire than concept – instinctual and responsive rather than laboured. I guess I was feeling especially sexy :)
SEX brings together three female artists whose practices approach notions of sexuality, role play and the erotic. On a slick, wet, yellow-tinged floor that feels part latex, part unspecified bodily fluids, a series of sculptures ask you to squint, squat, sit, and engage, while wall based works, part peep show, part icon, require you to get up close and personal in order to make them out, staging a tension between the voyeuristic and the intimate.
White underwear discarded on the floor, the action fixed in wet pools of resin, while tangled thongs pinned to the wall mimic service markings on a tennis court or echo religious iconography. A new body of work from Isabella Benshimol Toro, Papicolostrum Intolerance Club, recalls memories of going to play tennis with her father as a precocious young girl of nine or ten. For Benshimol Toro, tennis, with its implicit structure of boundaries and power, mirrors the relationship between father and daughter and its inherent complexity, a relationship that has come to have the mainstream moniker ‘daddy issues’.
The individual titles of the works, Soft Serve Lob; Butter Swing, Topspin Teeth, reference their post-match ritual of ice cream – a reward, while the title of the series Papicolostrum Intolerance Club, is a gently teasing word play: papi – the affectionate term for father in the artist’s native Venezuela; colostrum is the first milk that mothers produce after giving birth, the colour and texture of butter. The sculptures in the show are elated and exhausted in their wetness, the fixed gesture also a desire to freeze that moment: ice cream melts but Papicolostrum Intolerance Club is 4eva.
Eva Gold’s three works for the exhibition suggest a narrative, props for role play: a metal Stetson (Lucky you), a latex lasso (Some nights smell like trouble) and a rubber duffle bag (The dog house) evoke the cowboy; a figure that straddles both an embodiment of the hyper-masc, straight, all American man, in parallel with his image as a queer icon. The subversion of dominant narratives by the fluidity of desire.
The rubber Gold uses in her practice is traditionally used for roofing. It has a particularly powerful smell, reminiscent of tobacco and oil – smells typically associated with the masculine. Taking a material intended for large scale use, for the skins of buildings, and making it conform to the scale and dimensions of the body requires intense and almost masochistic labour, her hands covered in cuts as she distorts her body into unusual shapes while sewing. There is a degree of power and control in this kind of physical manipulation for the material doesn’t immediately consent to her desire. A membrane intended for the protection of the domestic eventually submits to her will, as notions of care are complicated by the suggestion of violence.
For Amanda Moström, two separate bodies of work approach sex in differing but complimentary ways. In the photo series, Don Joy, the artist recreates famous images with different members of her family: Tom of Finland with her father, her grandfather in Anna Nicole Smith and J.Howard Marshall and sister in Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra. The images are laced with mischief, playfully poking at ideas of incest. That people might be repulsed by the apparent perversion of these photographs was part of the joy of their creation; an inside joke within the family unit, flirting with the threat of the originary taboo.
Moström’s bronze stools form a site of exchange. Arranged together, they ask you to lower yourself down to the floor and commune with one another. You must squat to sit, the arrangement of limbs echoing the position one must take to shit.
The stools themselves have a body-like presence: a figure on all fours, commanding the viewer to activate them with their own body, recalling the power dynamic of the Dom/sub relationship. The Dom holds the whip but the desire of the sub is truly in control.