Feminism is fast becoming synonymous with protests known as SlutWalks, The Times columnist-cum-feminist biographer Caitlin Moran and all female art show Selling Sex. But where does that leave men? She Doesn’t Care is an all male exhibition at EB&Flow Gallery and its tagline, ‘male painters not impressing a woman’ brings their voice back into the feminist debate.
“The exhibition is not a reaction against feminism, it is an accompaniment to such progressive and practical feminism,” curator Liam Newnham says. Encapsulating this idea beautifully is Birdhouse Theory by Wayne Horse. Horse, who calls himself the ‘leading provider of uncomfortable silence, awkward moments and public embarrassment of all kinds’, has built a birdhouse wallpapered with pornography. At first glance it looks like something a shrunken Beetlejuice would visit for kicks. When you watch the ‘making of’, the macho elements become self-aware. One minute the women in the porn images are talking like South Park characters, the next the artist is explaining that when human beings were expelled from Paradise, birds were the non-domesticated creatures that stayed closest to us. Horse’s aim is to get birds used to seeing the naked human body, presumably so that our sins are forgiven, and we can all return to Eden.
“I’m not for a moment imagining that feminism has ended misogyny,” Newnham says “but I certainly feel different from historical men I have read about, and some of the work that men are producing now is certainly different from work made by men fifty years ago.”
Adam Christensen’s ‘493 Pink Triangles’ was worn by the artist during one of his drag shows. His drag queen name at Glastonbury was ‘Madam’ though he also performs as ‘De Dangé Läme’ (pronounced ‘dedans je l’aime’). Christensen’s dress is accompanied by an erotic story and he has given the viewer a second short story in the show booklet to take home. The booklet isn’t a catalogue but an attempt to showcase the artists’ wider practice. As Newnham says, he finds sale catalogues redundant after a show: “Here was an opportunity to produce something which, although still essentially useless, can happily maintain its uselessness, integrally, independent of an event external to itself.”
Gallery Director Nathan Engelbrecht smiles as he talks about ‘493 Pink Triangles’. “I believe this was the dress he wore in a performance when he met Liam, the curator, for the first time.” He also seems enchanted by the gloriously huge, gloss-painted Maquette for ‘This one goes out to all my dead homies’ by Ben Cavers. “Boys like to make forts, to build stuff, it’s messy, it’s getting in there.” There is a subdued contribution from Barry Reigate who is known for his orgiastic cartoon paintings at the Saatchi Gallery. Reigate’s ‘Untitled’ looks like a blackboard with “< -30cm->” chalked across it: “That one is about measuring your willy,” Engelbrecht laughs. And of the 1000cm long block printing by Cedar Lewisohn ‘She Doesn’t Care; he adds, “this one was made specifically for this show and named after it”.
A criticism of She Doesn’t Care is that the artworks would be more interactive in a living context: the bird house nailed to a tree, the costume on stage and Cavers’ gloss-painted sculptor in an artist studio dripping with paint. Also Jonathan Kipps’ ‘Flag and Run’s 3 Paper Fan’ are both dwarfed by huge artworks making them seem flimsy. “I have tried to cover as much ground as possible,” Newnham explains, “to not end up with a show propped up by an easy visual critical harmony.”
A favourite aspect of this show is the inclusion of street art. In the basement you get to walk into someone’s mouth and pretend to be a Corn Flake courtesy of Sweet Toof’s ‘Untitled’. His trademark teeth and gums can be spotted painted on buildings in New York and London, as well as the odd lift. Another street artist, Tek 33, was commissioned to tag the front of the gallery with ‘The gallery are a bit pissed off that you tagged the front door’. It’s a clever way to wrap the building in with the work but some might disagree. “We had the same tag on the shutters,” Engelbrecht says, not smiling for the first time. “But within twenty four hours the council had removed it.” It seems that feminism can change women and even men, but some things never do.
She Doesn’t Care is on at EB&Flow Gallery from April 7 to the May 11 2012