Chicken Knickers by Sarah Lucas, 1997
This is an image of the artist’s lower body wearing a pair of white knickers to which a chicken has been attached, its rear orifice in roughly the position of her vulva. Lucas has been using food as substitutes for human genitalia, both male and female, since the early 1990s. One of the principal themes in her work is a confrontation with traditional female roles and identities. She explores the ambiguities in her own attitudes and those of others (men as well as women) towards sexual objectification and desire. One of the ways she does this is by making physical and literal representations of vernacular terms for bodies, focusing, in particular, on sexual body parts and their connection to foods. Sculptures such as Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab 1992 (Saatchi Collection, London) and Bitch1994 (Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam) present fried eggs and melons as breasts, kebab and kipper as labia. Au Naturel 1994 (Saatchi Collection, London) puns on the traditional still-life (‘nature morte’) with the idea of a naked couple in bed, by placing objects representing male (a cucumber and a pair of oranges) and female (two melons and a bucket) elements on an old mattress. In her photographic self-portraits Lucas has appeared with fried eggs on her breasts, with a large fish over her shoulder and eating a banana as a phallic substitute. She has said:
"I was quite a tomboy when I was growing up, I liked hanging out with a lot of boys, and I sort of got used to their way of talking about sex. And at the same time as thinking it was funny, I suppose I was a bit aware that it also applied to me, and I’ve always had those two attitudes. I did enjoy it - but at the same time I must have shuddered inwardly, I think.”
Chicken Knickers is darker and more abstracted than the earlier works. The juxtaposition of a raw plucked bird likely to be stuffed and put in the oven with a body which appears immature, if not sexually uncertain, is disturbing. This is emphasised by the formal qualities of the image: the lower half of the body has been cut off from its upper part (including most importantly face and head) and is surrounded by intense blackness which creates a deathly atmosphere. More recent works Baby 2000 and Sex Baby 2000 (both exist as a photograph and a sculpture) utilise a chicken with a pair of lemons and a t-shirt to evoke a still more sinister connection between the flesh and orifice of an oven-ready chicken and the female sex object.