CHICAGO — Are you a viewer, voyeur, or just a wallflower? These interchangeable labels provide a curious starting point for ways to think about the relationship between the subject and the (art) object in Slippery Slope, a group exhibition at Woman Made Gallery in Chicago. Showcasing the works of 21 artists, the exhibition explores the abject body, queerness as a nexus for transgression, trans-materiality, performance art as part of a body politic, and gender as a social construct. But really, it might all just be about porn.
In her statement for the show, curator Robin Hustle intends that every work in the exhibition adopts or recognizes pornographic aesthetics, and engages with sexual arousal, utopian exploration and establishing a relationship between the artist and the voyeur, rather than the artist and the viewer. As a writer and art critic, use of the term “voyeur” rather than the more typical artspeak of “viewer” struck me as part of the bigger picture about slippery slopes regarding whom we are allowed to look at, why and how; we live in a culture with a blurred line between surveillance and voyeurism, where checking each other out on social media is just a part of how we “get to know” people. Thus every viewer is a voyeur, ultimately situating the perceived art work or online persona as an object that will either be consumed (viewed, liked, commented upon) or rejected (hidden, blocked, unfollowed, ignored).
Margaret Bobo-Dancy’s “Conch Critter (Abject of Representation)” is a cast bronze sculpture of a conch shell with a hand emerging from it rather than an insect. With middle and index fingers tilted upward Bobo-Dancy conjures a sort of “ecstatic, feminine sexual gaze” as she calls it, thus challenging the masculine gaze more typical in art history. Dustin Yager’s Minneapolis Boys is a tongue-in-cheek, dick-(almost)-in-mouth collection of 12 hanging plates with hand-painted iMessage screengrabs of the cock in various poses.
By recontextualizing these otherwise private messages into a public setting reminiscent of Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party,” Yager brings together a feminist art history and kitsch aesthetic that is thoroughly queer. Yager makes these perfect for a real dinner party while commenting on the almost expected dick-shot that is typical of dating in the Grindr-age, where bodies are photographed, sent and delivered, easily made pornographic for the smartphone consumer, which is something Danny Orendorff discusses in his exhibition essay for How Do I Look?
Bobo-Dancy and Yager’s works are sculptural, making the slippery slope between viewer and voyeur that much more complex. Other pieces in this exhibition that bring in the use of video and photography make that question more obvious and, frankly, quite dull. One such example is Mikey Estes’ “Condiment,” which portrays a sort of battle with ketchup and a hot dog, grossly eroticized to the point of pure comedy. Ultimately the voyeur either stops watching or continues to gaze.
Slippery Slope is on view at Woman Made Gallery (685 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago) through August 22.