The publishing sensation du jour is Wetlands, a novel by Charlotte Roche detailing the scatological sexual misadventures of teenage heroine Helen. The book, which has sold 1.5million copies in Roche’s native Germany, recounts the intimate details of Helen’s spots, menstrual cycle, and intimate shaving infections and launches in British bookstores this week.
Can there be any taboos left unchallenged by modern art and literature? Defecation? Piero Manzoni busted that one in 1961 when he relieved himself into 90 small containers in the name of modern art. Abortion? Tracy Emin has been rehashing that old chestnut since the ‘90s. Paedophilia? Step forward the Chapman Brothers. Artists and writers are undeterred and unrepentant. Sex, obscenity, a spot of boundary pushing, sell.
The Shop are in the throes of an exhibition inspired by Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal which describes a liaison between a college professor and his student. A brief plot synopsis from two of the exhibiting artists reveals a novel that is low on charm and high on fellatio, misogyny and an adolescent obsession with breasts.
The responses from the artists to the text are wildly varied. Sarah Lüdemann’s light/sound installation encourages you to pick up a pair of earphones through which heavy, ecstatic breathing plays. Miriam Austin has taken a series of subtly-lit photos of a naked body embedded with wax trumpets while Fraser Stewart’s performance piece uses four bottles of spilled milk as a metaphor for ejaculated semen.
More successful are works by Tom de Freston (artist in residence at Christ’s) and Matthew Drage. De Freston’s monoprints are restrained responses to the theme. The murky clouds of ink half-conceal couples engaged in sexual contortions borrowed from the Kama Sutra . The mottled ink slicks draw in the eye before unveiling the intertwined figures. Here is sex treated with measure and nuance, with a sense of privacy rather than voyeurism.
Drage’s life-drawings similarly couch explicit images in a medium that part-conceals, part-reveals like an elaborate Dance of the Seven Veils. These refined and intricate drawings are gynaecologically exact, ten-times life-size renderings of female genitalia. His use of line is refined and often uncompromising. These are not the air-brushed images of pornography but exacting and even cruel reproductions of slack skin and wrinkles. The explicit nature of the images is quieted by layerings of paper and newsprint, which serve as a modest screen from viewer’s eyes.
While The Dying Animal was a weekend-only exhibition, a smaller collection will still be shown alongside other works at The Shop.