Earlier this year I posted a piece on the art of British artist Jamie McCartney. In particular,I drew your attention to his controversial, epic sculpture 'The Great Wall of Vagina' (see 'here'). Since writing that article I've been rather dogged by a feeling of guilt. As you know, we here at The Streetlamp are proud of our almost impeccable feminist credentials ( I'm choosing to ignore Gordon's previous scurrilous remarks about my lusting after Björk at this point) and I was aware after writing the article, even taking into account its championing of female genital diversity, that I needed to balance things out a bit. You see, I feel as though I've rather fallen into the trap of adding to the mountain of images, artworks or otherwise, of the naked female form which proliferate in our culture and I'm not altogether happy with that. Students of feminist theory will be aware of the concept of "the male gaze" and I certainly don't want to be accused of falling into that convention.
That was why I was pleased and surprised recently when I came across a female artist who made waves with an exhibition last year, which featured the erect male member as its focus. And not just any old erect male member either. No, this exhibition was built around the not inconsiderable asset of legendary 70s and 80s porn star John Holmes. Called The John Holmes Prick Parade, the exhibition took place last September at the Eve Drewelowe gallery in the UI Studio Arts Building in Iowa City, US. Unfortunately, the exhibition is no longer running but the artist's photographs of the event can be seen 'here' and also throughout this article.
The artist in question is Emily Moran Barwick (pictured above) who is originally from Jacksonville, Florida, US and is a current MFA candidate in Sculpture at the University of Iowa. Barwick has used a wide range of media in her artwork; ranging from a stoneware clay figure to 100 identical Barbie dolls staged outside of Wal-Mart to an interactive cookie performance piece. Despite this great variety in her methods of expression, she continually focusses on the same interconnected themes: basic human connection, relatability, self-expression, and self-discovery.
Barwick often centres her work around the human body but also tries to deliver her message in a light-hearted, humorous manner that make it more accessible. For this exhibition, Barwick created a rubber and plaster mould using a sex toy, itself moulded from Holmes' actual penis. She then created numerous plaster sculptures, sent them out to fellow artists with instructions to decorate them as they wished. The finished exhibition features 30 individually decorated plaster penises.
So, what do 30, individually designed and formally displayed John Holmes penises actually represent? Barwick says:
"What I was interested in with doing this, and generating this, is talking about ownership of the body and the commodification of the body.
In our society, our body very often becomes a commodity item, and this [exhibit] is a very literal example of that, a very extreme example of that."
"Commodization of parts of our bodies can include examples as commonplace as a bared woman's shoulder in a lotion advertisement, to the extreme, and now much more mainstream practice, of porn stars selling sex toys based on their bodies, in this case, the John Holmes penis."
"It's the fact that parts of our bodies are used to sell products, without even the inclusion of a whole individual."
The artist's statement, which accompanied the exhibition, also makes the point that:
"The nude female form has long dominated as the artists’ subject. The John Holmes Prick Parade hopes to give some visibility to the much neglected male apparatus. This is a move towards balancing gender equality within the anatomical object-ification of the art world."
An excellent and noble ambition, and one which The Streetlamp hopes it has gone some way to addressing with this blog.
So, you're wondering now, what piece of music will Griff use to accompany this piece? There was only one contender. The track below is the excellent 'A cultural history of the penis' a fine piece of downtempo electro-pop from Garmisch, a music collective from Malmö, Sweden.
Garmisch - The Cultural History of the Penis by EuroMedia Zagora
Garmisch formed in 2006 and were originally known as Garmisch Partenkirchen. The current line-up is; Charlotte Fagerlund, Stefan Bodetoft, Birgitta Persson, Charlotte Lundgren and Patrik Svensson (pictured)
Most of the band's output is available as free digital downloads and they are well worth seeking out if you like a bit of chilled and mellow electropop. Downloads of the music proliferate all over the internet but the best places to visit are; the band's own website, their last.fm page, their archive.org page, their facebook page, or from the blocsonic site.