Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Naughty" Sculpture

Maybe it's because we're at the end of the quarter (finals ended today, grading stacks await me in my office), but I can't bear to write about something serious today.

The word "naughty" seems to keep cropping up, so I'll talk about that.

a water fountain
In the last weeks of class, a lidded piece showed up on one of the clay carts that looked phallic. It was a straight cylinder with a cone shaped lid, but the lid was irregular and didn't have a handle.  I saw the piece earlier, in process, and chose not to mention the similarity. I was pretty sure the student didn't intend to create a phallic piece, or maybe I just assumed this because the student was female. After class other students confirmed I wasn't the only one interpreting the piece as "naughty."

not the jar in question

For their final project, my Design students were creating posters advertising the spring Drama production, "As You Like It." They prepared drafts of their posters and then the drama director, Alicia Bickley, talked to them about their designs and her vision for the play and the posters.

"As You Like It" is the story of Rosalind who is forced to flee her erstwhile home disguised as a man. As Alicia was explaining her vision for the play, she explained that Rosalind dresses as a man for safety as she journeys in the forest, not as a cross-dressing experiment or for fun. Alicia said her production will not be "raunchy" or "naughty."

This is the second poster design the students have created for a client in this class and the second time the client had to warn them not to cross the line to something sexy or naughty. The earlier project was a poster for "The Vagina Monologues."

One of the finished designs for "As You Like It" was accidentally naughty. One of the students, as suggested by our client, was using dramatic lighting in his design. Unfortunately the arrangement of his two spot lights seemed to form the rear end and legs of a person bending over. The title of the play became more of a joke.

another fountain

My own work has sometimes been interpreted as naughty. The biomorphic forms I reference remind people of the biomorphic forms of human bodies. Even though I don't often look at human organs when I am sketching and planning my work, the swellings and orifices of natural forms (such as flowers, seeds and undersea animals) are similar in form to the swellings and orifices of human bodies, particularly when the color is not "right."

I like to assume that viewers interpret my work based on what they think about, or more specifically, what they expect to see. Since my work is abstract and based on slightly familiar but not easily recognizable subjects, people sometimes identify "naughty bits" as the likely subject. Sitting for hours at art fairs, I've observed that some people really struggle when the subject is not identifiable. These are the folks who earn my ire at the end of a long hot show when they ask "what is that supposed to be?" These people aren't comfortable with the idea that their question might not have an easy, or even a correct, answer.

people were disgusted with me for showing this piece
In class I am able to push students to accept the possibility of flexible answers, at art shows I just have to let these people walk away thinking I have a "dirty mind."

In graduate school I showed work with a classmate, Ryan Myers, during an art fair at our instructor's studio/gallery. My work consisted entirely of abstract sculpture similar to that which I create now. His work included figurative sculpture and functional mugs or drinking vessels with semi-abstract, minimal line drawings of nude women. The mugs were attractive and the line drawings were subtle but the subject was clear enough if you actually looked. One of the visitors to our space looked at my work and voiced disgust at how obviously "naughty" or erotic the pieces were. Then she picked up a "naked lady" mug, admired it, and bought it.  We wondered to ourselves whether we should tell her what she had purchased. We didn't, though I expect the woman's children eventually informed her.

based on a sea squirt
I think, in this situation, that the woman expected abstract in the surface decoration of a mug but she expected figurative sculpture. She warped reality around herself and turned my work figurative and Ryan's work abstract.

But kids tend to react to my work in the same way I do. They don't notice phalluses or body parts in my work, they notice colors and textures. I can't think of the last time a young child walked up to my work and wanted an answer (what is it?). Children usually grab and point and talk about the work, but it seems like they make observations and don't attempt to categorize the work in the same way adults have been trained to.
based on an acorn
Jason Briggs, one of my favorite ceramic sculptors, creates work that is clearly meant to reference human anatomy. (I must mention that in picture form, I think his work looks more "naughty" or "gross" than it does in person.) When I brought my 3-year-old daughter to an exhibition that included Briggs' work, she was fascinated by his work. She didn't tell me what she thought she was looking at but she just wanted to keep looking. Of course little kids haven't yet learned to react to their own anatomy with more than curiosity. (If you got to Jason's website, visit the "stimulation" link to read about his inspiration.)

I just started a new book by Terry Tempest Williams. I thought the book Red, was about pigments.  It turns out it is about the southwestern United States. I've only just begun reading it, but I love how she takes ownership of a "naughty" word: "I want to reclaim the word erotic at its root, meaning 'of or pertaining to the passion of love; concerned with or treating of love; amatory.'"

Williams is discussing love of place, but I like her broader interpretation of erotic. I want to apply this "passion of love" to an interpretation of my own work. At the very least, this non-naughty definition give me a new perspective when encountering people who interpret my work as phallic or relating to those human organs of love.

1 comment:

  1. The games our minds like to play. I had a lot of fun teaching Biology. Sea squrts, digging clams and sea cucumbers always got a response. I find your work rather intersting and very original. I liked your enchanted forest series.


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