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Text JF. Pierets Artwork Rurru Mipanochia
Rurru Mipanochia is a 25 year old, Mexican illustrator. Her drawings represent ancient pre-Hispanic sexual deities, transvestites and transseksuals, in order to promote dissident sexualities and to create a visual questioning about beauty.
Can you tell me about your childhood?
I had a very nice childhood. My parents where really lovely to my sister and I. Mexico city is not always the safest place to live so they took good care of us and always tried to be open-minded and talk unprejudiced. Sometimes they where a bit too overprotecting but they were really afraid something like that happed to us. At school I was very shy and I never spoke a lot. I was a lonely girl-boy-thing. I was always tangled in my own imaginary world but I was always smiling. When I got to High school, I finally started being more outgoing and made lots of friends.
You are born and raised in Mexico but currently living in Berlin? How’s that for a cultural difference?
The truth is I really, really like Berlin. Just like Mexico City it’s a big metropolis, but with much less noise. The noise issue is still under my skin because I’m a very messy person and I talk very loud, so it’s funny that I feel at home here. I feel at ease and love the spirit of the city.
How did you end up in Berlin?
Well, I thought about that, but I don’t know! Can you believe that? I just know that the first time I visited Berlin, I fell in love with it.
Your illustrations are based on the representation of she-males and pre-Hispanic deities. Do elaborate.
Most of my drawings represent ancient pre-Hispanic sexual deities like Tlazoltéotl, goddess of sexuality, Macuilxochtl, god’s pleasure and Huehuecóyotl, god of sexuality. And Mictlantecuhtli, in relation to the definition given by George Bataille on orgasm, talking about it as a ‘tiny death’. I also try to illustrated some pre-Hispanic rites of sexual nature that Huastecos carried out. This civilization being the most sexual of all Mesoamerica. I draw transvestites, transsexuals, and sometimes characters wearing a strap on. I try to promote dissident sexualities and inviting the viewer not to feel guilty if they want to experience their sexuality in a different way of what is so-called ‘normal’. My characters used orthopedics and most are amputees. They have pimples, are very thin, have hair or are fat. I’m trying to created a visual questioning about beauty.
You don’t have to be beautiful in order to be sexy?
Not at all! Or it depends on how you define beauty. Beauty is very, very subjective. I think beauty goes beyond what is imposed as such. Everything can be beautiful, ‘ugliness’ can be beautiful.
What’s your fascination with amputations?
In Mesoamerican artifacts are several characters to be found that show absence or deformities in their lower extremities. It results in moral and transgressed behavior, mainly of sexual character. For the Nahuas as well as for other Mesoamerican groups, the body was of great importance and constituted a language that could only be read by the condition of the person. A twisted foot – or the absence of one – was a metaphor of sexual transgression. Examples are, amongst others, Tezcatlipoca, Cihuateotl and Xolotl.
You’re drawing girls with penises and boys with tits. What are your thoughts when it comes to gender?
Everyone is free to play with his or her own gender, it doesn’t matter if you have a pussy or a cock.
Your work is both funny, disturbing and you have to check a few times to get the whole picture. What are you aiming for? Do you have a certain message?
I want to show that people don’t have to feel bad about having deviating tastes or different sexual fantasies than others. I want to point out that there are many different types of bodies yet all of them can cause desire and give pleasure. I would love us all to try to accept everyone, just the way they are. Just the way we are. We’re not crazy if we don’t meet the standard criteria.
What’s your personal fetish?
Scars, leg braces, socks and boots make me go crazy!
In an interview you once said: I’m 25 and I love Nutella. How can someone sounding so innocent make these sexual, in your face, illustrations?
Hahahaha! Well, I do love Nutella very much! And, I don’t know… when people meet me for the very first time, they ask me the same question. They can’t believe that such a sweet and nice looking girl makes such drawings. Maybe it’s because I have always been very childish and look a bit stupid. But I like that, I like talking about sex in that innocent and funny way, like children do.
In what way did your work evolve?
It’s a gradual evolution. I began making copies of Egon Schiele and Aubrey Beardsley’s work – bad copies by the way – when I was about 18. Later on I started trying to make my own drawings based on what I read or imagined. Sometimes the inspiration came from friends’ sexual fantasies.
A weird question to someone of 25, but what does the future look like?
I always think: you only live once so why not do all that is forbidden? Of course without harming others, that goes without saying.
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Text JF. Pierets Photos Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts
Three women, wearing black leather fetish gear, produced by the same company that supplied Diana Rigg’s costumes in The Avengers. One of them is on all fours and the glass top on her back awaits your drink. The second one wears thigh high boots and is ready to collect your hat. The third one is offering herself as a chair. Allen Jones’ fetishist sculpture ‘Hat stand, table and chair’ is probably the piece of art that his name is likely to bring to mind.
It was 1969 when the British Pop Art artist designed these fibreglass models of submissive mannequins offering themselves as furniture. ‘Hat Stand, Table and Chair’ were an immediate international sensation and Jones was instantly labeled ‘a cultural hot potato’ when his work got attacked with stink bombs and caused a riot when first exhibited in 1970 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. Feminists where furious about the objectification of women and even The Guardian suggested it should be forbidden to exhibiting the items. Jones himself claimed, ‘I was living in Chelsea and I had an interest in the female figure and the sexual charge that comes from it. Every Saturday on the King’s Road you went out and skirts were shorter, the body was being displayed in some new way. And you knew that the following week somebody would up the ante.’ In retrospect, Jones feels, ‘I was reflecting on and commenting on exactly the same situation that was the source of the feminist movement. It was unfortunate for me that I produced the perfect image for them to show how women were being objectified.’
Fast forward to present day. As from November 13, 2014 till January 25, 2015, the Royal Academy of Arts will exhibit Jones’ work from the late 1960s up to the present day. The exhibition will be a survey of his work spanning his entire career, including prints, paintings and the iconic figurative sculptures. Over the past forty years his work has remained true to the depiction of popular culture, with much of his imagery being drawn from advertising and performance. But what about ‘Hat stand, table and chair’? Is the image still causing the same unease and emotional disturbance as it once did? Not long ago, in 1986 the sculpture attracted controversy once again. The Tate acquired ‘Chair’ in 1981 and in 1986, on International Women’s Day, two assailants poured paint stripper over the mannequin’s face. It’s assumed the action was a feminist protest, but those responsible were never caught. Are Allen Jones’ sculptures still sparking controversy after all these years? Or are we living in such a particular zeitgeist that we’re not giving in?
Modern day feminist and founder of the wayward Belgian news site ‘De Wereld Morgen’, Bieke Purnelle, states that art should dare touch, accuse, expose and challenge: ‘Context is crucial in assessing images like that and I find it hard to understand that people tend to denounce provocative art, but don’t take any offence on the countless gender stereotypes that surround us on a daily base. Of course times are different now and you only have to look at advertisements published in the fifties to see how women’s role in society has changed. Yet I can’t help but noticing a return to the old deterministic stereotypes, for example when it comes to toys and children’s clothes. The perception of gender roles has a huge impact on how children and young people grow up. The properties that are assigned to the concept of ones gender are too much and too often emphasized to be comfortable. People get no room to just be an individual and are forced into a social straitjacket, while gender stereotypes, and by extension all stereotypes whether they concern gender, race or social class, are not only stupid and shortsighted, but also very dangerous.’
‘A Clockwork Orange’ is brought into the discussion by Stella Bergsma. Writer and frontwoman of the band ‘EinsteinBarbie’; ‘there is a similar kind of art in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, one of my favorite movies of all times. Female bodies are used as tables in the Moloko bar. The first time I saw that, I thought it was kind of cool; the body as an object of desire.’ According to Martin Gayford from The Telegraph, Allen Jones got a call from Stanley Kubrick around 1970. The film director had seen an exhibition in which Jones had shown some extraordinary and disturbing pieces of sculpture. Kubrick thought they would be just the things for a scene in a new film he was planning, ‘A Clockwork Orange’. The trouble was, the director imagined that Jones would design his sets for no fee, just a credit. When I (Gayford) talked to Jones in his London studio recently, he told me that Kubrick had said: ‘I’m a very famous film director, this will be seen all over the world and your name will be known. ‘I held the phone away from my ear, I was just staggered anyone would say that. It showed an ego that dwarfed that of any artist I’ve known.’ Jones turned down the offer and a set designer produced the pieces in question (many continue to believe they were by Jones).
Men versus women
Besides from liking Jones’ objects, Bergsma also reacts when it comes to gender roles: ‘I am really not that bothered by the objectification of women because I think that objectification is a part of our sexuality, and as long as it is sort of a game it’s a quite natural phenomenon. But I would like to see more equality, I would love to see more male objects and I do dislike the fact that it is almost exclusively women that are objectified in our society. So it’s the inequality rather than the objectification that bothers me. Nevertheless, there is nothing to stop us from changing that. So as a Christmas present I would like to see men as Christmas trees. They have already got balls!’Whether objectification is a part of our sexuality or not, the fact remains that it’s quite difficult to stay ‘correct’ in such a matter. Writer and exploiter of the LGBT bookstore ‘’t Verschil’, Johanna Pas, takes it personal when she says: ‘Although I love looking at women as sexual beings, I think it’s important they’re being portrayed as acting, thinking creatures. Both in the arts as in advertising, in movies and everyday image formation. As a voyeur I would love to enjoy female beauty, yet our society turned that into a complex delight.’
Art holds a mirror to our society. Represents the social, economic, racial values of the time we live in and according to Charles Moffat, curator of the Lilith Gallery in Torronto, Allen Jones’ 1969 works were deliberately provocative: ‘I would argue ‘feminist’, because the goal behind the works was to draw attention to social inequality between the sexes. Photographer-Sculptor Cindy Sherman did something similar years later when she portrayed battered and beaten women as centrefolds in magazines, objectifying women who have been abused. The concept is simple: the artist is basically playing devil’s advocate (not quite, but close enough) and portraying women in such a way that it will provoke a sympathetic response to the plight of women. If we were to make a similar sculpture today, but use wax figures of minorities to make the furniture – it would provoke a similar response and make people more aware of how poorly minorities are treated. In 1969 Jones’ sculptures provoked that response, yet it was misunderstood by the general public who jumped to the wrong conclusion. Shown today, the response would be more muted and people would grasp that the purpose of the sculptures is to provoke thought about gender inequality.’
Fast forward to 40 years later. Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard creates a series that ‘reinterprets art historical works from artist Allen Jones as a commentary on gender and racial politics’. One of the pieces is a copy of ‘Chair’ but featuring a black woman instead of the original white one. The provocative image of socialite and art collector Dasha Zhukova, sitting on that particular chair sparked outrage around the world. Artist Sofia Senna aka Fannie Sosa was outraged by this image. ‘I’m tired of seeing white man producing work where they objectify oppressed bodies, mainly black women, under the banner of Questioning power and representation. I believe these artists, Allen Jones, Bjarne Melgaard, or even Brett Bailey, are so eager to capitalize over the black female body and its subversive potential because they are lazy. I think by doing this they avoid interrogating and dismantling their own whiteness, maleness, and over all privilege. It’s so easy! A sexually objectified black woman will create a buzz, especially in the high art world now. There is such a fascination with ‘ratchet culture’, blackness, woman-ness and how her liberation looks. Black female bodies are both fetishized and demonized, and that creates a very profitable cul-de-sac where these bodies are exploited and appropriated, while the audiences are fooled into believing this is a critique to the powers that be. None of that. It’s just the same old bull manure.’ After an online magazine published the photo of Zhukova, perched on the artwork, the Russian socialite apologized immediately and said that ‘this photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an artwork intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics (…) I utterly abhor racism and would like to apologize to anyone who has been offended by this image.’
According to the numerous tweets and blog comments, the apology came to late. Yet there was one online article that stood out. Jonathan Jones, English journalist and art critic wrote an article in The Guardian headlining ‘Why there’s nothing racist about The Racist Chair’. ‘Today it (Hat stand, table and chair) is an accepted part of modern art history and in fact Jones has had a revival lately. So what was Melgaard’s point? Surely, in making this woman black he means to retoxify the art of Allen Jones, to offend people with an image long since accepted. The intention is therefore the opposite of racist: it is to question power and representation. Are you offended by this black woman’s abuse? Then why is it OK for white women to be similarly humiliated in a respected pop art icon in the Tate collection?’ Don’t forget that Jones himself claimed that his own work was actually a protest against sexism. Those visions (he saw on King’s Road in Chelsea) were to fuel his artistic imagination, producing not only his women as furniture, but striking images of seemingly endless legs wearing stilettos. ‘Is it too harsh to say that only a man can be that naive?’ says Johanna Pas. ‘It would have been shocking if he would have used male mannequins. Yet I guess that would’ve never been put on display.’
It’s all about context
American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger once declared that ‘We are never a subject, we are always an object’. Which triggered Johanna Pas into stating that it’s all about context. ‘I incline to think that women in the 1970s thought they’d seen the worst when it came to sexism. Yet it was just the beginning of image advertising. Major advertising campaigns were in their infancy, we were on the threshold of video clips and never heard about YouTube. Now there is such a proliferation of sexual female stereotypes that we no longer bother to blink anymore. Jones’ work is no longer shocking because we are so inundated with similar pictures that we find them either normal, or we are too tired to respond for the zillionth time. Question is if an artist has a social responsibility. I think he or she has indeed.’ Julian P. Boom, Art Director of Et Alors? Magazine agrees that it’s all about context. ‘It’s a piece of art, and art is one of the few things that should be able to get away with provocative imagery. ‘Hat stand, table and chair’ never bothered me and although I’m an opponent of gender roles, I never came to think of interpreting the work as such. Why not? Because it’s art. Nevertheless I do fulminate against the way women are portrayed in contemporary advertising, video clips, etc. The creators of those images have an obligation towards society, towards kids growing up, struggling with their self-image. Modern day advertising cheerfully waves all of this into oblivion. And for me, this is what we should react to. Not against art, something that ought to be free of speech.’ Her comment seems backed up by Bieke Purnelle’s words that you have to give the artists a little room: ‘Let them be provocative while pushing a few sore spots. Free and easy.’
Every discussion needs its conclusion, yet in the case of ‘Hat stand, table and chair’, there is none. More than 45 years later, the sculpture still sparks controversy. Is extremely chocking to some and necessary to others. We talked to numerous women and men and even the slightest similarity in opinion was hard to find. Maybe it leaves us nothing more to do than remind you that the Pop Art artist who, motivated by the theories of Jung and Nietzsche, also made numerous paintings and lithography’s and one almost forgets that he’s also a printmaker, working mostly in lithograph and screenprint and has built up an impressive body of work. The upcoming exhibition at The Royal Academy will be a survey of Jones’ work spanning his entire career, including prints, paintings and the iconic figurative sculptures from the late 1960s up to the present day. The exhibition will also seek to demonstrate the enduring place of drawing in Jones’ creative process. His talents as a draughtsman are considerable and although infrequently seen, these drawings underpin every element of his artistic output. Go check!
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Text JF. Pierets Artwork Xiyadie
Paper-cuts originated in Eastern Han Dynasty China (AD 25-220) and are hung on windows or doors for good luck. But instead of the usual decorative flowers and birds, Xiyadie, whose pseudonym means ‘Siberian Butterfly’, portrays graphic and daring depictions of homosexual love — long considered taboo in China: “I was 17 in the 1980’s when I learned the folk art of paper-cutting from my mother. And I kept learning traditional Chinese folk art until I was 20.”
During that time he acquired the art craft of expressing happiness and blessings through traditional symbols, such as ‘Jixiangruyi ‘(to be lucky and achieve what you’ve hoped for), ‘Fuguipingan’ (wealthy and peaceful)’, ‘Wufuzhushou’ (Wishing you long live with five happiness), ‘Jiyumantang’ (may gold and jade fill your house), ‘Madaochenggong’ (wish you every success), etc.’
The traditional Chinese folk art of paper cutting is not usually used to depict sexually explicit homoerotic images, but Xiyadie found a means of self-expression for his sexuality in the 1400-year-old art form: “I have a pretty stubborn personality. I always tend to express beauty in the way I imagine it, the composition and content a piece should have. Which is the reason I used to be criticized quite a lot by my teachers when I was an apprentice. They say I’m ‘riding a donkey backwards’. But there were a few teachers who encouraged me, commenting that my work was something new, and that I endeavor to express scenes different from traditional ones.
In my opinion I have been improving as an artist. But in the meantime I do keep those traditional paper-cutting techniques that I feel is the essence of my art. I use the yin and yang spaces in a piece to add in symbols of flowers and birds, which bears traditional meanings of blessing. And of course these inspiration blooms from my life, imagination and hopes.”
The artist manages to cut out provocative scenes that make viewers take a second look just to make sure they’re seeing right. Gallery owner Joe Flazh – who brought Xiyadie’s work to art space Flazh!Alley in San Pedro, California – has been overwhelmed by positive reactions: “Xiyadie touched on emotions that are deeper than sexual orientation. Xiyadie addresses subjects that are relevant to the LGBT community, but also to any person, gay or heterosexual, male or female and parents.”
The artist himself feels wonderful about it: “American people see my work and understand my deepest intentions. The hugs and kisses from my audience makes me feel most welcomed. I love the bold, friendly way American folks express themselves. My paper-cutting has the same boldness in it.”
Like many gay Chinese men, Xiyadie is a married father living in Beijing with a son and a daughter. Both still have no clue as to their father’s true sexual orientation: “For people living in underdeveloped rural areas, it is hard to even imagine being gay. In bigger cities, capital of provinces or above, life could be easier. I personally feel Beijing to be the best place, where the gay community is strong and active. And the city being very tolerant towards our community is one of the reasons I love living here. The gay erotica that my work portrays still remains unacceptable for main stream media.
I hate that China is so dominanted by traditional doctrines, but on the other hand, this is the cultural earth and water that nourished my creativity. My work is changing constantly, and so is the state of life I try to pursue. Immigrating would be a wonderful option for me but I do what I can.”
Text JF. Pierets Artwork AMVK
Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven is known for creating a diverse body of work in painting, sculpture and installation that has made her among the most important Belgian artists of her generation. She embraces a complex array of subjects, including alchemy, mythology, artificial intelligence and mystical scriptures from the past, working with the conviction that her work can someday answer the question if we, or if we don’t possess a soul. AMVK uses existing images in a disjunctive and semi-coherent way that only make full sense in the work’s final moment, when all the layers are combined together. Her career remains a subject of fascination and understandably so, because far from the mainstream circuit, she’s busy blazing her own conceptual trail. Her relationship with creativity is raw, almost primitive in its absence of compromise or concession. We meet Anne-Mie in her beautiful atelier in Antwerp, filled with books, work in progress and nude magazines. A conversation about reincarnation, porn and the urge to draw.
Your work contains contemporary issues regarding technology and sexuality while sourcing material from the past. Why this thirst for history?
Let’s start at the beginning. More than 10 years ago I’ve bought a book called ‘La science du bien et du mal’ by Victor Géhant that was written in 1848. In this book he’s searching for the connections between the fact that we are sleeping, the fact that we divide good and evil and the fact that we are convinced of having a soul. Afterwards it seemed that this book was based on the intellectual legacy of Marguerite Porete, a French mystic who died in 1310. We’re talking about the end of the ’90s so I had to search a long time before I could find ‘Le Miroir des Âmes Simples et Anéanties’ – ‘The mirror of the simple souls’. One of the last romans chevalier and one of the first mysterienspiele. The title of Porete’s book refers to the simple soul, which is united with God and has no will, other than God’s own, a spiritual dealing with the workings of Divine Love. She was burnt at the stake for heresy in Paris in 1310 after a lengthy trial, when refusing to remove her book from circulation or recant her views. It was only until 1965, when the original Old French version of ‘Le Miroir des âmes simples’ got published, that Porete’s status became one of the greatest of Medieval Mystics, as one of the most visionary exponents of the Love Mysticism of Beguine spirituality. When I read this book I felt like dropping down, I felt that I was her reincarnation.
How did this epiphany influence your work?
It was only when I finished my Headnurse project (96 women’s bodies combined with 96 terminologies taken from books on artificial intelligence. Ref.) I realized that this mystic, Marguerite Porete, had the same issues, the same pain as I have: the agony of a huge duality between my heart and my head. In 2005 I made a trialogue between Porete, Giordano Bruno, an astronomer, and Marcuse, who wrote ‘Eros et civilisation’, because those three people are also suffering from the same pain. I made drawings inspired by this trialogue and named it ‘I’ll Rob You’. I’ve been working on the subject ever since.
Are you heading towards a point where you can bring it all together?
Yes. It’s quite an ambitious project and sometimes my head can’t stop spinning but lately there are moments in which things start to fall into place.
You once stated that every piece of work you create is a survival mechanism.
Every period in my life is outlined by a series of entities that automatically evolve into a specific theme. By using these themes in my work, I’m able to control them, able to give them a logical position in my life. You can say I translate or canalize my inner process into an exterior three-dimensional structure.
When do you stop reading and start to work?
I do everything at the same time. I have concentration issues so most of the time it turns out that I’m drawing while reading, using the lyrics in my work. I make all different kinds of work at the same time. I need my drawings to place basic things such as anger, and grief.I can’t plant that in my bigger work.
You make all sorts of work. Paintings, sculptures, installations, you name it. You were never interested in sticking to one thing?
Some people used to complain about the fact that I make too much and all too different, but that’s who I am and what I am. Let’s say I have a wild creativity. From morning till night, it never stops. Picasso was also like this and I don’t hear anyone complain about him.
Does the slightly soft porn aspect of your work cause eyebrows to be raised?
You’re referring to the fact that my work is often called obscene. I have this big amount of nude magazines dating to the sexual revolution. In those magazines I find a lot of hidden filters to work with. Starting from those pictures I’m able to explain and deal with contemporary human or social issues. My choice of images is mostly based on false feelings of indignation. They haunt me with their nasty sort of beauty. It happens that they stick to me for 10 years or more before I’m able to really deal with them. In their innocence they touch something very deep and vital. For instance look at this scene (shows a 50’s black and white image of a woman playfully hanging on a rope in an artists’ studio. Ref.), why is she hanging there like this, what was that photographer thinking? To me the whole scene hides an essential urge from both sides of the lens, even with that retouched pubic hair. I find these women and the way they are depicted extremely beautiful too. The big challenge is to combine a tantalising image with peevishness and try to end up with something new that is meaningful and interesting.
Those 50’s images are quite harmless compared to contemporary porn. Are you even more annoyed when you look at this evolution?
I hardly buy those kinds of magazines because they are too simple-minded, too focused on one thing. But new kinds of sources do inspire me. For instance a year ago I found a magazine printed in 2000 with a lot of white and red rubber and women in funny scenes, with furry donkey ears. Very inspiring, I love it. I have also this thing with plastic, from when I was a kid. Lately I worked a lot with Sleek magazine with its homoerotic- and sado-masochistic images, flirting again with nazi-imagery, dark heavy leather, and bearded sexy men with an Arabic touch, in skirts. And again, quasi-silly. I find this all interesting and double because these magazines pretend merely to exist to sell clothes.
It sounds like you have the fierce need to push the limits of your inspiration?
Connecting sex and technology has always been my main activity as an artist . I am intrigued why naked women are portrayed, but on the other hand I’m also truly inspired by all things regarding the synthetic; thermodynamical laws and outer space issues. I had that since I was a child. I work with computers since 1977. I’m a pioneer when it comes to that. When I studied at the art academy we had a lot of contact with students who were both aspirant scientists as well as musicians. Performers. By that time I got very well acquainted with Luc Steels, who later started the laboratory of artificial intelligence (AI) at the VUB in Brussels, and it is thanks to him that I could start working with computers so early. I made my first movie on a very rigid piece of machinery that could only go black and white and was hugely pixelated.
What interested me from the start is that you can keep on working in different layers, which you can manipulate apart from each other, without focusing on a final result. And of course I loved drawing my naked women on these highly sophisticated machines. Something quite unusual to be done in the sterility of an AI-lab. The symbolic gesture of it was a statement and of big importance to me at the time.
What’s so interesting about artificial intelligence?
I always had this hunger for consuming science, as an outsider. I had a subscription on ‘The New Scientist’ as a student. In the beginning of the 80’s AI kept on searching for the essence of what defines human beings. Things like: what is intelligence, what is creativity, and how they related to each other. The books on knowledge representation reflected a modern kind of theology to me. AI used psychology and philosophy research and terminology, in order to develop new insights and to compact the abstract. At a certain moment the trail somewhat fell apart on the idea that language was the thing that made us more intelligent than other species. Later they decided that it is the complexity of human social structures that made us develop technologies as we do. As an artist I quickly knew I was more mesmerized by all things evolutionary, new ideas and new perceptions instead of art itself. Include my distrust towards the art world, because there were so few female examples, hardly any women to be found in art history books, and I soon felt much more liberated being creative in an atmosphere of science, logic and future.
How long did it take to find your path?
Not very long. As soon as I left the academy I started reading De Sade and Wittgenstein. This, combined with The New Scientist magazine, really influenced my choices.
Is there something you are looking for?
I’m not necessarily looking for something but I’m trying to make connections. I’m very conscious about all those different significance layers in reality and I like creating things that places everything back in perspective. That doesn’t exist in real life but it does in my work. Maybe it’s because I read a lot of fairy tales when I was young.
You talked earlier about the lack of women in the art world. Do you feel in place?
I consider myself a stand-alone. The past 10 years I thought a lot about it, but recently I decided to stop doing that. It starts to get too upsetting. The art world is mostly ruled by men. You have to have that certain mentality that when you find something that works, you stick to it. You are constantly supposed to stimulate the surroundings by shouting: look at me, look at my work, I’m the only thing that matters. You have to have an obese ego and I loathe it. I don’t know how this works with the younger generation of female artists. Maybe it has to do with the way I am brought up as a woman, that I keep other people as much in account as I do myself. For me the way I do it though is the only way I want it.
Do you find it important what people think about your work?
I’m very much interested in what people think about my work but I don’t take their judgments into account. When you work on something in your studio, you have a very intimate contact with your creation. You are in fact your work. From the moment you share it with another person you start looking through his or her eyes and your work has already changed by then. So it’s very important with whom I’m watching. After a while you let go, but in the beginning it’s essential.
And the final question; do you like living in Antwerp?
I do, I have a wonderful atelier here and Antwerp has a good vibe. I guess that’s why there are so many great artists living here. The only thing that bothers me is the lack of good spots to party, to dance. Since I’m also a DJ, maybe I’ll have to start one myself. Anyone interested?
Text JF. Pierets Artwork Jennifer Nehrbass
Someone once wrote that she was dismantling the roles and stereotypes of beauty and femininity, examining the psychology that leads women to go to extremes to maintain beauty and style. Needless to say that our brain got tickled so we checked on some of her thoughts.
I love living in New Mexico. It may seem cliché but the light is dramatic and the landscape boundless. The contrasts of people and their culture are always inspiring. We are at the center of the oldest cultures in the USA with the ancestral pueblo people, but we are also the birth place of the atomic bomb. One has the ability to isolate when necessary and engage with culture when inspired to do so.
The photorealistic aspect occurs primarily with the figures in the painting. I choose to have them painted this way to represent the physicality of being alive. We can pinch our skin and know we are physically here. The physical aspect to life is tangible. To contradict the tangible I place figures within abstract areas that refer to the thoughts desires, dreams and perceptions of life. The viewing of my work is meant to be a push and pull exercise between these differing painting styles.
A lot of my older work dealt with the experience of being a woman in contemporary society. They were primarily self- portraits, with homage to Cindy Sherman. Since that is my gender I felt the critique was a more honest. My experiences as a woman are not unique. The more personal I explored the more universal the paintings became. Currently I am working on paintings that incorporate both genders, which I find to be liberating to the process.
I try to reexamine how women are portrayed both in current culture and throughout art history. I am interested in expressing what it feels like to be held up to current ideals of beauty. I create narratives that illustrate a woman’s experience using emotions such as humor, fear, or melancholy. What other thoughts, desires or contributions are ignored when one is overwhelmed with one’s one image?
Painting is very intimate. Every decision is mine alone on what to put into the painting. Every color is mine to mix, every brush stroke is the coordination between my eyes and the canvas.
We hike through much of New Mexico and Colorado. The landscape always reinvigorates. I find film and music always a inspiring.
On the future.
Dreams: To design the set for an opera production. Plans: keep painting!!
Text & artwork Betty Black
Betty Black started off as a name, just a made up name. An alter-ego that I created for myself in an attempt to perfect one distinctive style of work, rather than end up with a variety of mediocre crap, after having just coasted through a pointless Illustration degree back in 2008.
Only four short years ago on paper, but in reality all of the dimensional shifts and time travel that I’ve experienced since make it seem like another lifetime completely. I can vaguely remember some things. A full time job? My own studio apartment? My Independence? Yes, back then Betty Black was just a made up name. But then my life slowly descended into Hell. And I got to meet her in person. First of all I lost the job and then of course the apartment had to go. I was forced to move back home into the terrible purple bedroom of my teenage self-loathing and, not content with imprisoning me inside a vile indigo box, the fates apparently thought I needed to be taught a much greater lesson in humility, inflicting upon me an impressively revolting medical anomaly which involved a number of degrading surgeries and agonisingly dull stints in beige waiting rooms.
I could neither believe nor understand what was happening to my body and so I fled. I absconded deep into my delirious imagination and firmly locked the door behind me. All I wanted to do was hide behind my new name. I took comfort in sadistically drowning paper in the blackest of black ink, leaving minimal white space for the strange scenarios and characters that seemed to mysteriously well up inside of me. I read stacks of Japanese Ero-guru comics and erotic novels by Von- Sacher Masoch, Anais Nin and the Marquis de Sade to name but a few. I buried myself beneath tomes of folklore, mythology and black magic and I gorged my eyes upon the tangible darkness of Film Noir, Pulpy sexy 50’s B-movies and grotesque eastern horror films.
But try as I might there was something missing from my work, some kind of key transcendental factor was lacking. I couldn’t seem to expand my ideas fully. I was fenced in, blocked – but by what? What was holding me back? “It’s really not good enough to just start writing new initials on your pictures and think that that’s all there is to it, you know?” I heard my own voice whisper in my ear. “I’m afraid that it all goes much, much deeper than that.” My heart stopped and my eyes bulged. I reeled around in total shock only to come face to face with myself, my exact double. Only this version of me was sharply dressed in a black Chanel suit with her hair perfectly coiffed and lips the color of dried blood.
“You can’t just call yourself Betty Black. You have to understand how to be Betty Black.” She tried to smile at me but all she was capable of was an evil grin. “What’s wrong? Isn’t this how you pictured yourself as me?!” “You know it is…” I managed to gasp. She laughed. “Of course I do. I’ve been around for a lot longer than some silly nickname has! I am the darkest part of your heart and The Monster in your mind. I’ve always been here darling, and tonight I’m going to show you a few things to get you on the right track.”
She took me by the hand and pulled me straight into another state of being. She showed me things that I had only ever caught glimpses of in dreams – there was Lucifer’s harem, with its jet black Onyx walls and opulent lacquered torture devices. Giant women with planet sized heads made of marble skewered human souls with meter-long stiletto heels, while Opera music played softly in the background. We traveled to London in 1856 and stole inside the house of an infamous coven. We peered into violently chintzy rooms whilst witches that looked like porcelain dolls – coldly perfect with long, silken hair – fondly degraded initiates with blindfolds and birch whips upon layers of velvet, silk and lace.
She led me into a Japanese summer garden with sweet, overwhelming fragrances and flurries of peach blossom spiraling into the air. Courtesans of the Sun Emperor sat in giant peach halves, partially dressed in heavy, gorgeous Kimonos which were embroidered with intricate patterns and flowers. They made love to each other lazily, licking the dewy peach juice from each other’s golden skin in the dappled light. Then we spied on a rich American heiress in 1925 as she lounged by her pool wearing nothing but a mink coat and blowing rings of opium smoke at a staunch looking Butler. We giggled as she ordered two maids to simultaneously fellate him because “He looked as goddamn bored as she felt.”
Finally, after exhausting ourselves in the black forest with a bunch of insatiable, orgiastic tree nymphs she took me to a place called ‘The house at the end of the world’, a raunchy bar which transcended time and space and that I would be able to get back home from easily, or so she said. We ordered whiskey sours and watched an incredibly oily and voluptuous burlesque dancer twirl two silver octopuses from her breasts. “So even though you’ve really only had a tiny peep into the infinite void of creation tonight, do you see how important it was even just to visit?” She knocked back her drink and lit a cigarette. “It’s the boiling carnal soup of madness where all real ideas come from and you can’t really expect to create any kind of decent, honest art without coming here and seeing it for yourself.
You can’t just guess at this stuff. It’s like I said, you can’t just call yourself Betty Black, you have to be Betty Black and now you know how to get here, you know how to do that. “ “Thank you for showing me…” I began to gush. “I wouldn’t thank me until you look this good”, she interrupted, looking at my clothes with a mix of disgust and confusion. “You need to get a suit like this one, bitch.” And with that she vanished into thin air! I felt like a well of perfect knowledge and infinite vision. I had shed my dead skin and finally, truly become Betty Black in the flesh. A new force of creative will bubbled up inside of me like a freshly opened bottle of champagne and I was giddy with inspiration. But, although on some level I had achieved inner contentment, deep in the back of my mind – I was indeed still thinking about that bitches amazing Chanel suit.