Interviews

Ancient Greek Crotch Shots: Ingrid Berthon-Moine’s Balls #NSFW

by Hrag Vartanian on June 28, 2013

Ingrid Berthon-Moine's Marbles series features closely cropped images of the testicles of Ancient Greek male statues. (all photos used with the permission of the artist)

Ingrid Berthon-Moine’s Marbles series features closely cropped images of Ancient Greek male statue testicles. (all photos used with the permission of the artist)

Antique sculptures may be robbed of the colors that once adorned their surfaces but what has remained of these ancient beauties include anatomically correct, though often idealized, genitals that clearly indicate the gender of many of the figures portrayed, including if they were hermaphrodites. London-based photographer Ingrid Berthon-Moine has taken advantage of this crop of artistic depictions and chose to focus her lens on a very specific part of this Ancient male anatomy for her latest series, which is cleverly titled Marbles.

I asked her what fascinated her about testicles and what she learned from the series.

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ibm-marble-1-640

Hrag Vartanian: What’s your fascination with Ancient testicles?

Ingrid Berthon-Moine: I like to look at men … the way they look at women. There is no better place than a museum to look at perfect bodies (or a stadium during athletics competitions and football matches.)

I wanted to go back to the birth of the representation of the human body perfection and it happened during the Classical Greek period when sculptors’ skills drastically increased and they took great care in their attention to anatomical details. I could have worked with the penis but I preferred focusing on these often neglected parts which secrete hormones, make and store sperm.

HV: Did you notice anything you may not have seen before?

IBM: They hang more on the left side which I wasn’t particularly aware of before although I’ve had close encounters on many occasions with the designated parts. Like breasts, they are also victims of gravity and all these details are skillfully reproduced by the Greeks.

ibm-marble-1-320HV: Did you consult any classicists or specialists in the field to decide which statues you needed to photograph, or perhaps you set up some guidelines for for yourself? Such as only Ancient Greek statues, or marble statues of young men, etc.

IBM: I only selected Greek classical marble statues. This interest in ancient classical Greek statuary was prompted by the accuracy of its anatomy, the realism of its stance and the influence it still has on the shape of the male body.

Ancient Greece was a highly masculinist culture. They favoured ‘small and taut’ genitals, as opposed to big sex organs, to show male self-control in matters of sexuality. Today, the modern users as in commerce, cinema, and advertising converted it into a mass commodity telling us about domination and desirability, size matters and the bigger, the better.

I also read Johann Joachim Winckelman’s The History of the Art and Antiquity and various books and essays on the male body.

HV: How has the response been to the series, are people taking it seriously?

IBM: I had an amazing response to Marbles. As always there are different levels of interest and reading in an art work and Marbles is no exception. I’ve noticed that women tend to do a checklist or a parallel with their male partners genitalia … and a slight content about looking at a male body, a kind of role reversal. For some male viewers, exposing the most sensitive part of the male anatomy (although in rock solid marble) to the gaze, trigger a sense of vulnerability which until now was mainly reserved to the female body, an uncomfortable role reversal.

There is also a hint of irony in Marbles, it could suggest that a shift in masculine identity is happening and that the splendour of the past erodes. I leave it to the viewer to decipher what he/she wants to read in there and to take it seriously… or not.

ibm-marbles-2-320HV: How do you think our notions about the portrayal of masculinity have changed over the centuries?

IBM: The female body has been overlooked for centuries, there is a need for a deconstruction of the male subject, as preconised by Gilles Deleuze. In order to deconstruct, the anatomisation of the masculine body in this work focuses on testicles and plays with signifiers. (I had already worked on a piece called V where I applied the same method to look at men’s hairy chest whereas the cropping suggested the female pubic hair triangle).

The title Marbles highlights the nobility of the material used for the sculptures as well as the everyday slang used to designate the glands.

On a physiological level, testosterone is secreted in the testes. A few studies have demonstrated that the impact of this hormone could be responsible for the financial market crashes as demonstrated by neuroscientist (and former Wall Street trader) John Coates.

Etymologically, without testicles, we would not be able to detest, protest, or contest or maybe in this case, to test-ify against the unkindness of the circumstances; as at the beginning of the 21st century, men start feeling the powerful and unapologetic pressure of the commercial gaze on their bodies.

I am also very interested by the concept of ornamental masculinity as defined by Susan Faludi. The ornamental was mostly feminine but a shift is happening possibly triggered by the recent recession. In The Male Body, Susan Bordo says that “for both gay and straight, to be passively dependent on the gaze of another person for one’s sense of self worth is incompatible with being a real man.” Men have to redefine their identity in the society we live in or is it just a lot of bollocks?

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  • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

    I gotta know, and maybe I’m not cultured enough, but what is the female obsession with very serious tightly cropped focus on genitalia in art?

    Not to say that male artists don’t examine it, but it seems to be in context of: here is a male with genitals showing or here is a female with genitals showing. But it never seems so tightly cropped or nearly as serious as it does in art presented by females.

    I don’t want to cherry pick male and female artists so I’ll try to stay away from that, but comparing this work to something like the tighter cropped images of what robert mapplethorpe photographed it’s almost like they don’t see the characters or qualities of masculinity in the same light. It’s like one examines male body and the other just sees balls.

    • MaximusNYC

      Citations needed.

      • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

        Okay compare Judy Chicago, Betty Tompkins, or Georgia O’Keefe rendering of genitals to any sort of male artists rendering of genitals. The closest tightly cropped version I can think of is Courbet, and even that incorporates legs, torso, etc. (context vs non context).

        • MaximusNYC

          Well, Georgia O’Keefe always insisted she was just painting flowers… but I’ll grant you Judy Chicago and Betty Tompkins. Maybe it’s about putting sex, this culturally fraught topic, under a microscope, so to speak?

  • Bruce

    Funny to see “marbles” in relation to Koons’ “Blue Balls” recently on view in New York. Seems again “the Ancients stole all our good ideas”.The artist being unaware of the descended left made me turn my head and cough to proceed the smile given by this topic.

  • JDBRD

    “The female body has been overlooked for centuries…” (?) Hmm. I did not know that.

    • samktg

      I suspect someone made a typo. Makes much more sense as “The male body…”

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