Let's look at dicks: (an attempt at) Reframing gaze.
Wangs. Penises. Dongs. Cocks. Dicks.
Despite contemporary attempts of producing alternatives to the heteronormative male gaze, many of these are still heavily filtered through a colonial white centric lens. This lens works to reinforce homogenised ideologies, values and desires of the body. LET’S LOOK AT DICKS questions how we look at and handle the body through subverting the traditional westernised gendered roles of gaze and the body.
Dick/s as an object of desire are heavy, loaded and problematic in a way that nothing coded or understood as desirable on cisgendered women’s bodies are. While the most intimate sites of the body are often open game for public consumption, there is a real fear of dicks being present, in view, or handled as an intimate site of the body – erect or flaccid. They are the things we giggle at in adult shops, they are excluded from nude scenes in movies, censored in art galleries and they are simply too much in a way that the saturated idea and image of cis women’s intimate bodies are not.
Reframing gaze for this exhibition isn’t an exercise in attempting to rewrite heteronomative white centric western gaze by looking at cis women’s bodies or desires. Instead let’s look at what we ignore, shy away from and hide from public view – the sites of body that are too taboo to deal with.
Throughout the exhibition dicks are reimagined as an object, merging an idea of the real body with the imaginary. Gaze is framed directly through image, and video work, borrowing from pornographic framing of the body to fragment and reduce the body, exposing dicks to a treatment seldom represented. The work is a merging of garment, textiles, sculpture, video and images, which form new understandings and imaginings of the body, our taboos, desires and how we look at things.
Lets look at dicks.
Exhibited at the Holy Rollers Gallery in Adelaide, as part of Sister Gallery programming in 2018.
LET’S LOOK AT DICKS : (an attempt at) Reframing gaze.
An essay by Kimberley Pace
After one late evening of making dicks for this show I dreamt I had a penis. It wasn’t exciting though as I imagined maybe suddenly having a penis might be – it was more about the logistics of suddenly having a penis but not having enough space in my underwear or jeans to comfortably fit it. In my dream I decided I needed to go to the shop to buy appropriate underwear as in my present situation I could not contain my new body part. It squished and oozed out and every time I tried to push it into shape it rebelled. It rejected all the boundaries I tried to put in place. It seeped past comfort and spilled into the uncomfortable. I started worrying about the eyes that would wash over my new bludge when I went into a public space. I pushed it down trying to smooth it out. Then I woke up.
It might seem unusual to open an exhibition essay with a dream I had about having a penis, but this dream about the discomfort of people looking at a dick seems like a good place to set up the parameters for this show.
Dicks. Why have an entire exhibition of dicks? It is something I’d never thought I’d do in my practice. I’ve always treaded the line between the obscene and private, avoiding the blatant overuse and exposure of the most obvious erogenous zones. And now, here we are, we are looking at dicks – and I’m asking you to look at them.
It’s the looking that’s important here. More specifically – how we look at the body in an effort to subvert the traditional westernised gendered roles of gaze.
We consume the body through gaze daily and the body is governed by codes. These codes are cultural, social, and symbolic and at some point these even become legal parameters to govern our interactions with the body. These codes dictate what parts of the body are taboo, and before we even get a say, they draw blurry lines dividing what’s private and what’s up for public consumption.
Laura Mulvey’s 1975 text ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’ examines the skewed nature of heteronormative male gaze that shapes these codes. Mulvey posits that male gaze fragments the (cis gendered) female body as penetrable and vulnerable and that women should find their desire through the desire to be looked at. I would suggest that in the contemporary this fragmentation of the body as soft and vulnerable extends to any body that sits outside parameters of the traditional gender role of cis-gendered male across the spectrum of gender.
Contemporary attempts of producing an alternative to the heteronormative male gaze are still filtered through a colonial white centric lens. The problem with this is that it builds on these pre-existing established homogenised values, ideologies and desires we already have about the body. We are used to seeing and consuming cis women’s bodies flayed and displayed. The most intimate spaces revealed and agency reduced, as these bodies become objectified as things and bits to be consumed for audiences through gaze. Why are we so comfortable looking at the intimate bodies of cis gendered women but the presence of a penis, erect or flaccid is obscene?
David Buchbinder suggests that we deflect from the cis male body from being viewed as penetrable or objectified in the same manner as the cis female body. This is achieved firstly through informal codes that frame the cis male body being hard, build and strong – it is not desirable for the this body to be thought of as of as corporeally soft, vulnerable excessive and penetrable. Secondly, through the taboos, censorship and formal legal boundaries prohibit the representation of dicks, flaccid or hard in media. These restrictions are often either not applied or more relaxed towards anything coded the intimate and private cis female body.
Dicks make us uncomfortable. A walk through an adult store will have people simultaneously giggling and frothing at dongs uncomfortably demonstrating the lack of exposure. A walk through any major gallery shows an abundance of breasts and vaginas, and a stark absence of penis - this speaks of the power assigned to male gaze when large art institutions persist in privileging this treatment towards the body.
Censorship is something I’ve experienced from galleries and administrators for works that were assumed to be too “phallic” (but weren’t actually representing dicks) or works that didn’t actually show dicks but used a stand in representation like a banana. So, it’s not even that dicks themselves are too taboo and shocking but even the thought of a representation of a penis is too much. Notably, the many more literal representation of breasts, anuses, and orifices within those shows were not censored.
How then can we reclaim gaze or seek alternatives to colonial heteronormative male gaze without first confronting the divisions in power, taboo and censorship assigned to dicks? Dicks are entirely relevant as reframing gaze for this exhibition isn’t an exercise in attempting to rewrite heteronomative white centric western gaze by looking at cis women’s bodies or desires. It looks at the problematic attitudes that we have outside of that space. The works in this exhibition seek to confront some of these attitudes. Inviting new definitions of gaze, through looking at dicks, as objectified, erotic, repellant, hard, soft, flaccid, penetrable, fragmented and separated from the burdens applied to a totalized body.
The exhibition positions dicks as an object and objectified. They exist as objects not aligned to a full body. Gaze is framed through image and video work, asking us to reconsider how to look and view the body as fragmented. Pornographic framing usually reserved for cis women’s bodies reduces the body to segmented as parts. In particular in the photographic work L'Origine du monde take 2 merges a contemporary porn lens with a reference to a historic painting to call attention to a continuous and ongoing privileging of this particular gaze. This subversion redirects focus and questions how we look at and handle the body through disrupting the traditionally gendered roles of gaze and use of the body and is continued through the video works.
In the video works we see a gyrating body thrusting while wearing shorts covered in silicone dicks near another video of fondling. Both are situations that allow a voyeuristic lens into private spaces. The garment itself has reformed from something that normally veils and conceals into an external element. Body is worn and therefore exposed.
Real body is blurred with the imaginary and symbolic. The works merge representation of real cast penises, both erect and flaccid, with the ambiguous. Softness and hardness is explored simultaneously. Depiction of the imaginary desirable is borrowed from adult toy aesthetics. Textiles forms and garment are used not just to veil and conceal the body but reveal and expose. They enable us tangible links back to the body while simultaneously keeping us at bay through their absurdity. The objectification continues as metal hooks and brackets string up these bodily elements, spreading and attempting to lift up these fluid forms, which refuse to be contained. The works are excessive. They repeat, dripping with pearls and ornateness, oozing with abjection and the erotic.
All of these works aim to expose dicks to treatment seldom represented and form new understandings of our relationship to gaze, and new imaginings of the body, our taboos, desires and how we look at things
Feel free to laugh, froth, feel discomfort, arousal, repulsion, desire or horror.
Let’s look at dicks.
Mulvey, L. (1989). Visual and other pleasures (Language, discourse, society). Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.
Buchbinder, D. (1998). Performance anxieties : Re-producing masculinity. St. Leonards, N.S.W., Australia: Allen & Unwin.
Segment of video work - Put your dick in the air, 2018.
Segment of video work - Rub, rub, rub, 2018