September 23, 2005

Lady Sasquatch!

Coming to a subject deeply close to mine own heart comes the latest exhibition from Alyson Mitchell at Paul Petro, Lady Sasquatch.

while the illo at right may serve sufficient for some tastes, I would like to include some commentary on this extremely dykey work from the Paul Petro site because I think it illuminates some rather interesting subjects. To quote The Globe & Mail,

Mitchell's latest she-creatures are a departure from her earlier fun-fur pinups, sporting snouts and fangs, and baring their multiple teats and fur-rimmed genitalia with daunting (or hilarious, depending on your sensibility) vitality. In one wall hanging, a symphony of reds, a woolly she-creature bays at the moon. In another wall piece, worked up in oranges and golds, a Sasquatch giantess takes a licking from her nude female cohort, who is buried face-first in her lap.

"These images were originally made by men for men," she says, referring to her soft-porn sources. "As a straight woman, you are not supposed to see them, and, as a dyke, I'm sure as shit not supposed to see them. I wanted to take those images back, to take the shame away."

[snip]

On the hair front, Mitchell says enlightenment came with an issue of Penthouse back in the eighties, when she was a teen camp counsellor in the Ontario woods. "We were definitely in Sasquatch land, there," she remembers with a laugh. "I remember all the boys drove into town to get the new issue with Madonna in it.... And I remember she had armpit hair."

I wish also to remind the kind reader that I may not have a fetish for furry women, but that I feel much affinity for larugaru because of mine own heritage. For those of you who don't know, my Irish side is quite a bit of troll.
Contrary to the popular belief - held by many within, outside of, and even against the women’s movement - that a “feminist pin-up” is an oxymoron, it is no more so than “feminist painting” or “feminist sculpture,” or “feminist porn” for that matter: these are all media/genres historically used and appreciated primarily by men, about which nothing is inherently sexist, but which have all been both kept from women and used to create images that inscribe, normalize or bolster notions of women as inferior to men.

As a genre associated almost exclusively with women - due, of course, to its creation and prominence in cultures where women’s rather than men’s sexuality is considered acceptable for scrutiny - the pin-up has, no less than (indeed, perhaps more than) any other cultural representation of women, reflected women’s roles in the cultures and subcultures in which it is created. And, because the pin-up is always a sexualized woman whose image is not only mass-reproduced, but mass-reproduced because intended for wide display, the genre is an interesting test-strip for Western cultural responses to women’s sexuality in popular arts since the Industrial Revolution, as well as feminist responses to the same.

Indeed, precisely because of its history of isolating the sexualized woman in an all-female universe, it has been a favourite not just for critique but appropriation—broadly, by feminist artists, but specifically by lesbian artists, whose work reveals moments in which the pin-up has presented women with models for expressing and finding pleasure in their beauty and sexuality. [snip]

But this critique is shot through with a palpable sense of the pleasure that Mitchell clearly derives from her manipulation of these media, techniques, imagery, and even historical associations—whether embellishing upon the original imagery by adding wide bellies and a rainbow array of skin tones, or turning cuddly centrefolds into bestial “Shebacas,” Mitchell approaches her furry creations with a genuine, playful sense of affection.

And the artist’s pleasure in her plushy pin-ups is catchy—arguably, even primal. In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, the writer/namesake of modern “masochism” famously associated fur with the powerful, even cruel sexuality of women—at once a contrast to the relatively smooth skin of the female body and a parallel to the pleasurable, furry bits generally kept from view. (Sigmund Freud concurred, arguing in his typically misogynistic way that the subconscious associates fur and velvet with women’s pubic hair, the first sight of which the young male child believes to be “lacking” a penis.)

In Sacher-Masoch’s private life, the feeling and scent of his wife’s furs allegedly drove him to fantasize of plunging his face into them—a fantasy, interestingly, divulged by critic Sally McKay in a recent article on Mitchell’s work when she confessed: “I resisted the temptation to rub my face on the art, but it was a struggle.”

it's a great article. go on. read it. it's fantastic.

and she has a zine. seriously.

thanks, bOING-bOING!

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