CLICK TO VIEW PORTFOLIO
Chin-Chin Wu © 2006-2008
The exhibition contains 15 life-size photographs, sound files audible through headphones, one cabinet de curiosités, experimental videos, and the making-of film.
Making of – Femmes: Portraits Dé/Visagés
Editing: Jean-Marc Sanchez
The exposure of the female genitalia implies an ontological vulnerability. Is this why it has remained as one of the last bastions of censorship in the field of representation? It seems to me that the female genitalia have suffered from the polar treatments of paternal protectionism, which excludes them from the social field, or male exploitation, which has demands perfectly “cultivated” and remolded vulvas. I wanted to see if there was a strategy that could neutralize traditional diametrical views of the female genitalia operating on these paradigms of attraction-repulsion. This series came into being in order to examine our capacity to look at the female genitalia as they really are, without resorting to a ready-made alibi.
Several axes of reflection were explored in this series:
Horizontality, verticality. I think this is the key axis of reflection when it comes to how to show the female genitalia. The vertical axis is considered the “noble” axis because it distinguishes us from all the quadrupeds. It is also the position that “condemns” the vagina to its invisibility. For this series, I have established a horizontal position of the body that aligns on the same horizon the face and the genitalia, the mouth and the vagina. At the same time, we have a sensation of verticality given that the frame is tight and that the frontal point of view forces us to “face” the picture.
Human, animal. If the vertical position renders us human, are the genitalia not the last vestiges of our animal nature? Simone de Beauvoir describes this ancient struggle of women between the propagation of the species and the desire for individuation and transcendence as such: “Woman’s individuality is constantly combated by the interest of the species; she appears possessed by strange forces… It is not without resistance that the woman lets the interest of the species settle in her body.”
Nature, Culture/Raw, Cooked (Lévi-Strauss). If nature condemns us to animality, the human species attempts by all means to erase traces of our animal nature: clothing, accessories, piercing, waxing, paranoia of body hair… The ultimate step would be to cultivate or “cook” our genitalia, supposedly the rawest part of our body.
Face, genitalia. The personification of the female genitalia is a very ancient theme (Baubô the mythical vulva). If we operate a 90° visual rotation of the photograph, we can see, by a visual contamination of sort, a face that superimposes on the structure of the genitalia. The face is often deemed the most human and the genitalia the most animal part of our being. This visual confusion destabilizes established hierarchies.
Baubô, the mythical vulva
Mouth, Vagina. In the essay “Mouth” by Georges Batailles, the mouth is a high place of individualization in human beings because it is capable of words, whereas in animal life, the mouth is understood as “the principle element in the system of capture, killing, and ingestion of preys where the anus is the point of accomplishment.” In these portraits of women, the “lips” of the genitalia are open and expressive, allowing them to ascend to the same status as the mouth.
Masculinity, femininity. The “faces” that we see superimposed on the structure of the genitalia convey very “masculine” traits. This questions the validity of the foundations that separate the masculine and the feminine.
Eroticism, academicism. The pelvis that one perceives as toppled over reminds us of the arched back that eroticizes the pose according to conventional erotic codes, whereas the frontal viewpoint neutralizes the images (a form of academicism since the Dusseldorf School). This provokes an instability in the reception of the photographs and leaves space for ambiguity and hesitation.
I invited my models to stay open to these tensions, fragilities, and paradoxes of existence that constitute us as women.