Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers – 17 March, 2011
Just as objects and materials are plucked out of their domestic settings, parts of the anatomy are unbuckled from the body itself. Lucas' Nuds are composed of bits of torso, anonymous limbs, sexual organs and unspecified bulges. The body is no longer cohered through personal identity or character - it is a collection of parts that are as malleable as material.
Nuz / Spirit of Ewe
4 March 2011 - 9 April 2011
Describing Sarah Lucas’ show at Two Rooms is in itself a guilty pleasure. Skin-tone pantyhose stuffed with fluff resemble pouches of bulging, dimpled flesh. Tentacle-like limbs suggestively mingle with plumbing systems and toilet bowls. Concrete block plinths support sculptures that look variously like ambiguous human body parts or sausage meat squeezed and twisted into pudgy shapes.
Lucas is known for being part of that attention grabbing pack of Young British Artists that emerged in the 1990s. The YBAs were a diverse group of theory-savvy young artists whose brash and publicity friendly art practices were concerned with the base themes of sex, art, death and materialism. Lucas returns to the stuffed pantyhose of her famous bunny works made during the height of YBA fervour from which she has developed a new series cheekily entitled Nuds.
Lucas’ work is significant in that it introduced a type of coarse humour to visions of femininity. Her famous bunnies abjectly flopped over their respective chairs suggesting everything from domestic tomfoolery to trashy playboy bunnies and props from B-grade films. Her sexual politics challenged values of good taste and class distinction through creating cunning material manifestations of the kind of toilet-humour and ‘page 3’ jocularity commonly found in British tabloids. Lucas’ works are undeniably funny - they provoke the kind of suppressed snicker that sits at the back of your throat lurking somewhere between snort and giggle.
Her Cycladic Nuds take off from the bunny pieces but are more classically sculptural in form. Displayed on concrete block plinths, these works consist of stuffed stockings twisted around each other like interlocking limbs. They are delicately attentive to the traditional sculptural concerns of weight and form and call to mind the work of Barbara Hepworth and Louis Bourgeois. As their titles suggest, Bronze Age Cycladic Art is also a sculptural influence with the curved shapes of the Nuds suggesting marble female figurines.
So, what was traditionally conceived as high art is ironically manifested in tacky flesh-coloured underwear. With the supple twists of Lucas’ stuffed stockings, different cultural associations relating to art, gender and class are distorted and intertwined. No object is pure. From sexually suggestive limbs to ad-hoc film props or sausage-meat, every piece of material is between past life and a new incarnation. Lucas is a master of working art’s wondrous Duchampian capacity to pull stuff out of its original context thereby offering it up to new associations and possibilities.
Just as objects and materials are plucked out of their domestic settings, parts of the anatomy are unbuckled from the body itself. Lucas’ Nuds are composed of bits of torso, anonymous limbs, sexual organs and unspecified bulges. There is something liberating about her fragmented treatment of our corporeal human anatomy. The body is no longer cohered through personal identity or character - it is a collection of parts that are as malleable as material.
Along with the Nuds Lucas also exhibits a series of work developed in New Zealand as part of the Two Rooms residency programme. Her stuffed stockings variously invade concrete block edifices, toilet bowls and, with a wink to New Zealand farming, sheep bones and skulls. Some effective jarring moments occur where sheep remains meet fleshy, transparent pantyhose; nevertheless this series seems more exploratory and less articulate than the Nuds. The references to sheep are funny at times, but don’t add anything all that interesting to the woolly New Zealand stereotype.
I also missed the snappy titles of Lucas’ previous works. For all their focus on materiality, works such as Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab exhibit a pitch perfect engagement with language. These titles are not just peripheral cataloguing necessities, but set up an interesting comic relationship of word, material and viewer. The experience of Lucas’ work is located somewhere between revelling in her use of material and processing her quick-witted lines.
On a final note, one piece in this show that I wished had a more singular emphasis was the work enjoy God that involved a plain singlet built into a concrete block partition wall. There is something that is both truly funny and poignantly human about seeing a concrete block wearing a singlet. In this way, Lucas’ works are best when their bawdy humour is tempered by a kind of rudimentary, unfussy humanity.
To read a transcript of the panel discussion “Whose Oceania?” held recently in London, and more on NZ arts abroad, CLICK HERE
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