Situation part 2: 'Make Love'- Not war with Sarah Lucas
After having introduced her audience to Miss Jumbo Savaloy, Sarah Lucas has invited us back to Situation, for the second instalment, in order to Make Love!
(Sarah Lucas, exhibition view. Left to right, Hard NUD, 2012, Priére de Toucher wallpaper, 2012, Enjoy God, 2011, Get Off Your Horse, 2012, Make Love. 2012.)
I want to begin by talking about hanging. Sarah Lucas is always hanging, literally and metaphorically. Double meanings are central in the work, where multiple meanings are exposed as what language naturally does. Hanging things from above, so the lower part dangles free, in many of the sculptures, an element of the assemblage remains static in the air, immanent and ready to drop.
As a noun, ‘hang’ describes the presentation of an art-work, in this sense all the work is ‘hung’. Secondly, the hang causes a downward droop, like the sagging of the weight in the foot of the stocking, caused by stuffing.
‘Hang’ has a number of connoting phrases, all are suggestive of the aesthetic presentation and content of the works. To ‘get the hang’ implies learning how to operate something, with this reading, we may conclude that the artist is getting the hang of her subject, or her audience, or chosen material. ‘Hanging by a thread’ determines a precarious state, perhaps Lucas is hanging by a thread in the masculine world of art, or could the ‘hang’ be risky. It’s a chance when you Make Love!
So ‘hang fire’ means hold on. With the works in Make Love, the artist arrests the viewer and requires a pause from them, ‘hang fire… look at this!’ ‘Hang in the air’ implies something remains unresolved, but literally describes the physical status of the object in relation to the gallery. ‘Hang Loose’ relates to refrain from taking something too seriously, Lucas knowingly and notoriously mocks masculine art-world constructs in her work, visual puns are rife.
‘Hang someone out to dry’ implies leaving someone in a vulnerable ‘Situation’, often Lucas is exposing male spectators, offering them exactly what they want to see. You want tits? Here they are (As in MumMum). You want to fuck me? Here I am, ready to be mounted (as in the chair pieces Make Love).
‘Hang tough’ is to remain firmly resolved, Lucas marks her territory and hangs tough against the male dominated world in which she practices. Lastly, ‘letting it all hang out’ describes relaxation and inhibition, Lucas is nonchalant, it’s all there for the viewer to see, no deeper readings or meanings, there is so much to ‘hang on to’.
(Sarah Lucas, Magic Mary, 2012)
Hanging from the ceiling of Situation, a sculpture resembles a female figure comprising a coat hanger (for upper body), light bulbs (for breasts), the familiar bucket (for vagina) and a coil-shaped red bulb for a groin. An assemblage suspended over a rug. Magic Mary relies on metonyms, the substitution of one object for another. Lucas mystifies ordinary objects, they remain adequate, and have the ability to force the audience to see sex in everything present. The red, potentially ‘Fire Bucket’ crotch leads to all sort of associations based on sexual heat, this woman’s ‘Sex is on fire’ or at least it has been as she appears burnt out, spent. A comment perhaps, like ones Lucas has made before about the expendability of women, their service as the thing through which everything is flushed (see also Lucas’s 1999 piece Human Toilet II’). The rug appears occupied and sacred, not to be walked on, it’s position indicating the vertiginous condition of visuality, where the viewer looks down on the work of art.
So what else does Lucas hang? She hangs fried eggs (frequently, Woman in a Tub, 2000), and boobs made out of cigarettes, hang in a bra (It Sucks, 1999). She hangs pictures of herself to form a mobile (Me Suspended, 1993) She hangs objects infected with tits (Nice Tits and MumMum, 2012). Potentially, as my Nan would say, she ‘hangs her hat up’ to her audience!
Amongst hard angular breezeblocks, squashy spongy, stuffed-hosiery body parts emerge from within and without. Although the blocks are erect, standing vertically, we are eternally now reminded of Carl Andre’s impotent horizontal stack. A white vest stretched over the bricks of Enjoy God forces us to see the sculpture as a figure, how can it be anything other then bodily representational when it wears clothes? Lucas’s gleefully acrid one-liners are present one hundred times over, mocking, satirising, joking, its all there. Sexual innuendo takes precedence as an exchange between Lucas and her spectator, titillation over sensuality; the artist refuses the burden of direct and literal representation. Something is always present to mean something else.
Women sitting on chairs feature as familiar icons in popular culture, and are present in Lucas’s vernacular too. She presents a pair of female figures both seated on matching wooden chairs, they draw influence from her Bunnies, but are now pert and alert, not droopy. The figures comprise of tits (no surprise, always in abundance with Lucas), a pair of lean legs, stretching to the floor and on the back of the chair, a bum. One of the stocking figures has their legs stretched wide open, the other has them firmly closed, the eternal juxtaposition of the Madonna and the whore.
(Sarah Lucas, Make Love, 2012, diptych, two chairs, tights, kapok, linen string, wire, 95.5x135x58cm)
Stockings are representative of female subjugation as abjection. Woman seated on a chair, legs-akimbo reminds us most famously of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992), who, while sitting on the ‘hot seat’, flashes her crotch to policemen, treading the line between sexual liberation and danger. Secondly the inseparability of the chair and the female speak of lap dancing, where seductive women use furniture as a prop, disabling their subject into a position of passivity. This notion of seduction, the sexual chair dance, recalls a scene in Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007). Both films troubled censors, upon their release, with strong sexualised violence. And this filmic culture is no doubt a concern for Lucas, as her gender representations concentrate both on the media and art history. In feminist studies the female form is looked at for the way it refuses to be a sign in a narrative of masculinity. I’m confronted doubly with my own associations with nude female figures on wooden chairs in that, for me, they may also signify the pose of a life model.
The political questions surrounding the work of Sarah Lucas, relate to what it means for a woman to be rude. Rudeness is always there in the work, it permeates the entire atmosphere of the exhibition. Is it difficult to conceive it possible for a woman to become obsessed with sex? Everything refers to human body parts in someway. The body is often fragmented. The works are hardly ever not about sex, and to top that, she mocks and points to male disgust at female sexuality, and satirises masculinity in art. Lucas’s sculptures forge an identification with the spectator, who views the pieces as distorted images of themselves. So which of the chair dancing figures purports to be a distorted view of me? Am I a legs open or a legs closed kind of a girl?
(Sarah Lucas, ‘Make Love’ at Sadie Coles Situation, 17 March - 9 June 2012)