Landscape and Bodies

G 18

G_ 18 (STILL ~COLOR)

This body of work was inspired initially by a rotting pumpkin. Noticing it in a bowl at a friend’s house, I marveled at its beautiful colours and the fascinating shapes the mold made as it traveled over the vegetable’s skin-like surface. This chance encounter prompted my mind to travel in various seemingly divergent but ultimately related directions. Why not select various vegetables, especially those whose rounded physiognomy suggested the human body such as the gourd and the squash, and photographically record the process of their decay? The vegetables became surrogate human beings whose decline uncannily mirrored our own. This realisation caused me to meditate on the historical connection in the western imagination between form and formlessness and ideas about gender.

Apollo 2002

Apollo 2002

For the Greeks ideal beauty was epitomised by images of young men and gods whose bodies expressed ideas about proportion, ratio and harmony. Where women’s bodies were earth-bound and corrupt, Greek male bodies, in imagination and art if nowhere else, transcended the boundaries of materiality to symbolise the higher realm of reason or soul. The god Apollo realised in stone was perhaps the ultimate such image and represents the Platonic ideal: calm, rational, controlled and beautiful. Classical statues of these gods and men are entirely self-contained; no openings or orifices exist through which their transcendent subjectivity might seep away. Smooth, unwrinkled, unaffected by the passage of time and incorruptible, the classical body is the antithesis of the rotting pumpkin and represents a fantasy of masculine potency and plenitude.

However, for the Greeks the bounded kernel of self-contained subjectivity that was masculinity was always under threat from its disorderly other, the femininity of fluidity and dissolution. Historically, as in Aristotle for example, the form/formlessness dichotomy has been divided along gender lines, with the male as the epitome of form and the female as matter, an undifferentiated heap upon which the male can act.

F_07 (Etching)

F_07 (Etching)

From this, was can conjecture that masculinity is not naturally given but a construction that must continuously be maintained less the male subject collapse back into a state of primary undifferentiation which was for Aristotle the condition of women. The threats of the feminine to masculine psychic or bodily wholeness are evident in visions of the female body throughout western history as an object of abomination and pollution which threatens masculine selfhood. Beliefs about gender which construct man as form, as active, as mind and woman as matter, as passive, as body are not simply quaint vestiges of our long dead past; they live on today in various guises.

F_05 (Etching)

F_ 05 (ETCHING)

In the contemporary grotesquerie of transformers, boy toys whose animalian forms transmute in an instant into hyper-phallic, heavily-muscled, pinheaded, fully-armed military maniacs, we can still see the ancient fear of attacks on masculine subjectivity from anything that might penetrate its defenses. Two versions of idealised masculinity – the muscular phallus-in-excess and the rational, self-controlled Greek demi-god – are paralleled by two versions of ideal femininity equally fantastical; Eve-Lilith the temptress and her contemporary descendent Barbie and the lovely Madonna who lives only for her child. All are fantasies, but fantasies which seem still to have a vise-grip on the popular imagination.

This body of work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally. To see a sample of exhibition catalogue excerpts, click on the following links:

Imprint exhibition catalogue

Krakow International Print Triennial 2000 catalogue excerpt

12th Norwegian International Print Triennale catalogue excerpt

11th International Print Biennial Varna 2001 catalogue excerpt

10th International Print Biennial Varna 99 catalogue excerpt