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Le Bain avec Andromede by Felix Labisse, 1944 [crop]
From set of nine lithographs illustrating poems by Robert Desnos
Ashkan Honarvar , Taken from the “MEAT Series” project
Louise Bourgeois, Hung Piece, 1968
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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.
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Fact: death too is in the egg.
Fact: the body is dumb, the body is meat.
And tomorrow the O.R. Only the summer was sweet.
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The word ‘fleisch’, in German, provokes me to an involuntary shudder. In the English language, we make a fine distinction between flesh, which is usually alive and, typically, human; and meat, which is dead, inert, animal and intended for consumption. Substitute the word ‘flesh’ in the Anglican service of Holy Communion: ‘Take, eat, this is my meat which was given for you…’ and the sacred comestible becomes the offering of something less than, rather than more than, human. ‘Flesh’ in English carries with it a whole system of human connotations and the flesh of the Son of Man cannot be animalised into meat without an inharmonious confusion of meaning. But, because it is human, flesh is also ambiguous; we are adjured to shun the world, the flesh and the Devil. Fleshly delights are lewd distractions from the contemplation of higher, that is, of spiritual, things; the pleasures of the flesh are vulgar and unrefined, even with an element of beastliness about them, although flesh tints have the sumptuous succulence of peaches because flesh plus skin equals sensuality.
But, if flesh plus skin equals sensuality, then flesh minus skin equals meat. The skin has turrned into rind, or crackling; the garden of fleshly delights becomes a butcher’s shop, or Sweeney Todd’s kitchen. My flesh encounters your taste for meat. So much the worse for me.
Ashkan Honarvar from “the Meat Project”
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Jindřich Štyrský, collage, 1934 (Colour version of this)
High Boy Jessica Harrison
From the artist - To Cut, To Construct: The Transplantation of Surface Within a Sculptural Practice:
Surface is our primary place of encounter, whether it is by touch, taste, vision, hearing or smell. We perceive and are perceived through our surfaces, the body existing as not just a thing, but as a permanent condition of experience both facilitating and interrupting our understanding of the world. It is from this phenomenological basis that my research begins, exploring the significance of the body within sculptural practice, the role our surfaces and sensations play in our experience and perception and their function as a connection/division between an interior and an exterior.
Skin has a dual nature, existing simultaneously as both interior and exterior, a tool of perception and a place of self-perception. Like no other part of the body, skin serves as both representation of the whole and that which conceals it, giving it that double quality of the organic and the imaginary described by psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu. This fluctuating idea of the body’s surface describes the reflexive nature of sensation and perception and forms the basis of my practice-based research into the body and its transplantations. Through hybridised forms in sculpture and video, I am attempting to unpick this reflexive quality in our surfaces of interior and exterior, the known and the unknown to explore the significance of the body within art as both ‘interpretational constraint and enabling condition for the construction of meaning’ (Tilley: 2004). Hybridity and transplantation are useful tools in this research as immediately speak of a blurring of boundaries, and a notion of difference prompting reflexive reactions of seduction / repulsion, attraction / anxiety.
Like skin, the hybrid form is necessarily dualistic, the basis being that separate elements can be recognised individually and combined in the imagination. Unless at least two distinct parts are perceived, the form cannot be considered as hybrid, therefore it can be said the hybridity resides outside the form, and within the observer.
If hybridity is a condition of the perceiving body, contained by or possibly located on our skin, what does this mean for the boundaries of the body? Our skin has always held significance as the location of our sensations and perception, as the boundary between our interior and exterior, but does its transplantation transgress this boundary, to become, like our perception of bodily self, a projection of the bodily surface?
A psychological construct as well as a surface entity and a highly cathected organ in its own right, skin is an organ of contact, protection, vulnerability and power. Through its removal and transplantation, we can physically alter our own boundaries, and psychologically push our perceptions of self. Skin is widely considered an external entity, yet it turns inwards to line our orifices, can grow over foreign objects, sheds itself on a daily basis and absorbs and emits our surrounding atmosphere. My work and research explores these multiple layers between an inside and an outside, and the idea of our surface as something that is reflexive, malleable, changing location, expanding and contracting, that when cut and displaced, can fundamentally affect the perception of our own body, boundaries, and the world we exist in.
Captive in our bodies (as interpretational constraint), the visual and conceptual power of hybrid forms over an audience is strong, hinting at things once unnatural and natural, strange yet also familiar. By mirroring the tools of our sensation and transplanting our ‘islands of perception’ (Benthien: 2002), the work is questioning a presumed rigidity of skin/surface through the unfamiliar presentation of the familiar. If our knowledge is formed through the body and its surfaces, rooted in a sense of touch, what happens when those component parts of the body are broken down, dispersed, multiplied and collaged? The surface of the body is everywhere a potential exit, and similarly an entrance, susceptible to sensory experience over its entire surface. The work is an exploratory step into puncturing and manipulating this surface, a violent fragmentation through hybridity where tokens of our boundaries (mouth, teeth, tongue, eye, finger) are scattered as remnants of a fragile division.
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