Thursday, June 13, 2013

PHILIP BROPHY TALK at The Ian Potter Museum of Art 13 June 2013

Philip Brophy with Hungry Vaginas.  Photo: Julie Clarke ©

Horror genre by default debases the body, cuts, slashes, fragments, devours, excretes, oozes or covers it with fluids, reduces it to pulp until it is just flesh or waste, a mere semblance of the holistic, clothed and recognizable, clean and proper body. Body horror aims to excite, disgust, create fear, sexualize and challenge our very sensibilities of what is acceptable and palatable. Philip Brophy’s current installation Color Me Dead now showing at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne, includes prints, video projections and digital animations of female nudes accurately rendered in paint, filmed or recreated as illustrative caricatures, and not only engages with body horror, but raises some interesting questions about how the female nude has been historically portrayed. Indeed many of Brophy’s works, particularly his paintings on one wall, covered with projected moving water re-mediate many of the representations of female nudity within art history. I did think that he glossed over many of the complex reasons why certain events in Christianity were over-represented in art and I thought that at one stage he became carried away with his own rhetoric, in fact, I was left thinking after his talk this afternoon that there is much humor in this most serious consideration, in fact when explaining why the Hungry Vagina animations on three small podiums were placed at a particular height, Brophy dry humped one of the screens so that his pubic area was directly in contact with the rhythmic pulse of the opening and closing, gorging and swallowing animated vagina. Brophy explained that it was not unusual in Parisian galleries for paintings of traditional female nudes to be placed on the wall in such a way that the pubis was at eye height, enabling the gaze to be directed at what Brophy considered to be the actual subject of the painting, the vagina, which was never shown. On the other hand, I perceived his action as engaging with virtual sex where the male viewer achieves some kind of sexual gratification by viewing female nudity on screen or over the Internet. As I viewed these benign, but, all the same, monstrous vagina's I was reminded of Mouths of Hell, those gaping monsters that appeared to infiltrate art until the end of the middle ages and were most common in representations of the last judgement.  Brophy did state that he had gleaned the shapes of his animated vaginas from a number of historical sources. As Brophy spoke about his works I understood it to be a performance of sorts, perhaps like his Fluorescent 1 (2004) in which he dressed up in drag, lip synching and dancing, for at his talk this afternoon he rarely stopped smiling and cajoling in his orange tartan slacks and lime green bomber jacket complete with skulls heads and his vernacular was that of an individual much younger than himself and those more inculcated in post-digital culture, or perhaps he's just been hanging out with too many students or teenagers. The monstrous female caricatures oozing their way out of automobiles on one of the walls may appear more in place on a t/shirt, poster or graffiti wall, but served to show yet another way that the female form has been appropriated in contemporary culture. Color Me Dead is showing until the 6 September, it's well worth a look.

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