With a mix of unwavering candor and airs of utter silence—save for the spare audibilities of bodies merging with and within one another—Susan Silas photographs coital acts both as they are, on a most personal level, and as they change, indeed mature over time. Pamela Butler, blending notes of rambunctious humor with frank socio-political commentary across a full range of media, emphasizes the complicated virtues of certain aspects of gender identities while underscoring, at the same time, their inherent absurdities. Ventiko employs multiplied selves, fleshy sprawls and the atmospheric mystique of baroque lighting to create dramatic, at times diabolically operatic photographic tableaux of erotically charged pilings of carnality lost somewhere in the rich draperies of atemporal art histories. Rebecca Goyette, in her videos, sculptures and audience-inclusive performances, eschews subtleties and comfort zones altogether in favor of riotously rite-like send-ups of amorous relations in which merely blatant erotica—at times featuring lobsters—becomes the costumed revelry of sexed-up chaotica.
Clearly, sex and gender are fundamental themes in these artists’ creative practices. Their treatments of the same, however, are far from facile. We went right to the sources for the how and the why of all that, and to find out where we can see works by these artists in the coming months.
I have been asked if my images are erotic. How can I know if they are erotic for anyone else? I have been asked if my images are pornography. For me, pornography is defined by how an image is used and not by what it depicts. In the Christian tradition, ecstasy is closely associated with death. If ecstasy is a moment of lost consciousness or absence from one’s self, or if full self-presence and absence are difficult to tease apart, then in photography, it is presence before light captured on film that creates the image of the absent subject in the document of their presence in the photograph. love in the ruins: sex over 50 represents a part of my overall preoccupation with the singularity, fragility and finitude of sentient being. My work, THE SPECIMEN DRAWER, will be on exhibit at the University of Miami CAS Gallery in March, 2015. Please also see www.susansilas.com.
I see my work not as a direct investigation of sex and gender, but of the relationship of sex and gender to the overall dynamic of how an individual finds agency in the world. I seek out images that expose myths that lurk below our conscious awareness, governing much of our understandings of sex, gender and, beyond that, of cultural hierarchy, agency, and power dynamics. My work is currently focused on sexualized iconic females from the canon of modern western painting, and on how these images play into our overall cultural myth-making and how these myths affect me as a female painter in this tradition. In April I’ll be in a group show curated by Larry Walczak at Schema Projects, in Bushwick. My Good Girl Book is for sale at Printed Matter, Blonde Art Books and online. And there are lots of images and info on my website, pambutlerart.com.
Artists have always created depictions of sex. Sex is the most fundamental human interaction, yet the sexual image in art is taboo and controversial. I make direct sexual imagery; my costumed porn videos, erotic sculptural objects, and paintings purposely play their sexual hand on first read. But creating these works necessitates negotiation with intimacy, boundaries and trust between myself and my co-conspirators as we push ourselves and the audience’s comfort zone. The inner layers of my works deal with positive/negative emotions that come up from the sex act: ecstasy, self-love, love of the “other,” shyness/bravado, vulnerability/power, and alienation. I do this to tackle our implicit puritanism—to connect with and include our human nature in the conversation of art. I show my work at Freight & Volume Gallery in Chelsea, and I have a lot in the works for 2015. Look me up on www.rebogallery.com, Vimeo and Facebook for updates!
Modifications of behavior, thoughts, assumptions and expectations are most plausible in fabricated realities. I encourage removal of the day-to-day self by using a safe space (on set) to question possibilities of alternative selves through the manipulation of the human body, the use of personas, and the exploitation of both sexuality and sensuality. To further explore this last year (at Select Fair, during Art Basel in Miami), I produced a 28-foot site-specific installation and live photographic spectacle featuring a Real Doll, nudes and live peacocks, titled On Beauty. It was indeed disheartening that most audience reactions reinforced current social constructs of gender and femininity. The resulting images will be unveiled this year during Sanctum Sanctorum, a pop up residency this spring in NYC. I will have more exhibitions, but I’m most excited about my new partnership with Mariposa Foundation for Girls in the Dominican Republic, whose goal is to actively end generational poverty, alter traditional gender roles and reform practices involving child-brides.
You can follow Paul D’Agostino on Twitter @postuccio