Sunday, May 16, 2010

Don't worry Quinn, it is not a freak show

Can someone sculpt a life-size bronze statue of a woman-with-a-penis fucking a man-with-a-vagina, doggie-style, and then claim that he doesn’t want his exhibition to be viewed as a freak show? Yes he can, if he is  artist Marc Quinn. The claim was made in an interview to The Guardian on May 1, just before his latest show - displaying the said statue - opened at the White Cube gallery.

The statue has been cast from two real-life pornographic actors: Allanah Starr (a man who surgically became a woman but decided to keep his penis) and Buck Angel (a woman who changed into a man but decided to keep her vagina because she didn’t want to lose her orgasms, as she explained to The Guardian).

Other works include a marble statue of Chelsea Charms, a woman with enormous, surgically-enhanced breasts who is an adult “breast entertainer” for the pornographic industry; a towering marble of Thomas Beatie, a pregnant man; two large, pop-ish busts of Michael Jackson playing on the “Black or White” theme; Pamela Anderson sculpted to perfection, in real life and in bronze; and more.

I had only heard of Quinn’s works in passing before – Self, a bust of himself shockingly made using his own frozen blood, and Alison Lapper Pregnant, a naked marble sculpture of a pregnant woman born without hands and feet. I hadn’t seen either, but the first sounded interesting and the second – simply noble. I had to see his works in real, which I finally did this week.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much nobility on display in this show – except, perhaps, in the sculpture of Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man. Beatie’s sculpture stands out because of the astoundingly gentle expression that radiates off his face – as he softly runs his palm over his swollen belly. The expression said more to me about the beauty of mother’s love than the countless medieval Madonnas that I have viewed in museums across Europe. By capturing that expression on Beatie’s incongruously bearded face, he instantly transformed Beatie from a freak into something close to godliness – and to me it was a revelation. 

But I can’t understand how sculptures of Starr fucking Angel or of Chelsea Charms looking up in ecstacy as she strokes her monumental breasts help us understand them and their choices more, let alone identify with them?  If anything, it further alienates them, since they are already pornographic actors and presumably used to putting up such displays for people’s pleasure – often freakish pleasure. It is not particularly courageous of path-breaking to allow themselves to be sculpted so. On Quinn's part, by presenting them in such poses, he has only confirmed the stereotypes of transgenders.  

Were it not for Beatie, I would have found Quinn’s show boring. And since boredom is not a sentiment any good freak show aims for, perhaps, Quinn has achieved what he set out to do.

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