Very occasionally and normally with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek irony and predatorial bad-taste, illness is an older woman considered as an object of sexual-desire. In the Coen brothers’ latest, this site ‘A Serious Man’, click the ‘sexy-neighbour’ is a scary super-woman with too much make-up and too little decorum. The older woman and sex is a topic of taboo and avoidance. As Charlie Brooker recently pointed out, Susan Boyle is an average looking woman but in comparison to today’s airbrushed army, she is more than the wrong side of beautiful.
When Louise Bourgeois grins widely wearing a coat of monkey fur with a two foot-long latex phallus wielded under her right arm she is disarming and confrontational. Old women aren’t meant to make sexual jokes, are they? This is 1982 and the artist is in her early seventies. The photograph, taken by Robert Mapplethorpe the same year as her retrospective at MoMA, is subsequently cropped so all we see is the image of her wrinkled, smiling face. The erotic humour is therefore stripped from the image leaving the question; can erotic art and old age go hand-in-hand?
‘The glint in the eye refers to the thing I’m carrying. But they cut it. They cut it because the museum was so prudish’. Bourgeois suggests that the image is a joke on MoMA itself; having famously excluded females largely in it’s history of twentieth-century art, Bourgeois proudly grappling a crumbling, latex phallus pokes fun at this.
Hauser and Wirths’ latest all-female line-up of Bourgeois, Lynda Benglis and Alina Szapocznikows’ brought together three artists who address the taboo of eroticism and late-style or even death. Is this show an indication that the contemporary art world has come a long way since the Guerrilla Girls’ protests of the eighties?
Lynda Benglis’ most enduring image is of her posturing, greased, powerful and amazon-like with a giant dildo held between her legs. She is sexy yet terrifying with a perfectly formed body and ‘dyke-cut’. Originally created for Artforum in 1974, this work has had the most enduring impact and potentially effects the way we view everything she has created since. In the show her works are sensual, erotic and mirror the female/male emphasis of Bourgeois’ works. Similarly, Szapocznikow casts the female body and presents us with breasts, phalli-type objects and the idea of the female-body traumatised by the holocaust, dying early as a results of breast-cancer. Although Szapocznikow does not specifically address the idea of sexuality, she makes the viewer confront a body which is not aesthetically beautiful, desirable or even fully-finished.
These artists demonstrate a way in which the ageing female artist depicts eroticism or the female body without really depicting it. By making parts of the body, cast, crumbling or partially-shown, they create ‘acceptable’ versions of their own sexuality, while also subtly disrupting the idea of the complete, ‘perfect’ form in modernist sculpture. It is only when we are confronted with the photo, the ‘reality’ of late-eroticism in the form of Louise Bourgeois and her crumbling phallus that this question is truly addressed. You can be old and erotic, you can even be old, ugly and erotic so long as you don’t take a photo of it.
It’s a buoyant sign of the times when a child chooses to celebrate their birthday not with fat-fuelled tour around the local burger chain kitchens and a game of musical chairs led by a man in a grubby, information pills sinister clown suit but by brushing up on their sewing skills. AS the make-do-and-mend approach to life seeps back into the mainstream public consciousness, ampoule the enthusiasm to reskill and bask in the glow of DIY pride is being felt by a new generation very aware of its ecologic and economic environment – and determined to enjoy itself without trampling all over its ethics.
The Makery, price a new creative community workshop-cum-DIY help centre in the bustling ‘Artisan Quarter’ of the historic city of Bath, is on hand to help out with this. Husband-and-wife team Kate and Nigel opened The Makery just a few weeks ago – collecting the keys just days after the birth of their first child – and are on a mission to steer Bathonians away from the shopping centres and towards their sewing machines.
“We’ve made things forever,” says Kate who, along with husband Nigel, left television careers in London for the West Country good life a year ago. “We moved here and we thought, ‘Let’s do something we really enjoy.’ So we brainstormed ideas. There’s been so much press about make-do-and-mend, making things is so en vogue again, and people are proud to say they made things themselves. It’s a backlash against everyone spending loads of money. That’s exactly up our street – all our furniture at home is from Freecycle or auctions, and we make it look beautiful ourselves. Friends always comment on it, and say, ‘Ooh I wish I could do that,’ so we thought, ‘Right, well, we’ll teach people how to do that then.’”
Location hunting, key-swapping, floor-board stripping and a birth ensued, with The Makery now running regular workshops in everything from crocheting your own snowmen to making natural soap. “My speciality is sewing, so we run workshops like ‘Get to know your sewing machine’, or making your own clothes and bags,” Kate continues. “But we’ve got loads of freelance tutors so its not just sewing; we teach ceramics, there’s an upholsterer who’s going to get upholstery workshops going, and we’ve been approached by a lady who makes natural toiletries. There will be bookmaking, printmaking – we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves.”
Split over two floors, The Makery’s workshop space is a crafter’s pick-and-mix dream, lined with piles of recycled fabrics awaiting a new lease of life, rows of eager sewing machines and reclaimed furniture whose drawers spew colourful buttons, yarns and threads. And, of course, there are the parties…
“We’ve got a little girl’s birthday party here on Saturday, and where possible the materials will be re-used. That used to be a jumper!” says Kate, pointing to stocking hanging in the shop’s window. “Each child will bring in an old T-shirt and spend the first half of the workshop designing a monster, and giving it a name and a personality. In the second half of the workshop, they’ll make the monster – they draw the outline, I’ll sew around that and they can stuff it and put the eyes on.” It certainly beats an afternoon trying to build things out of grease-saturated Happy Meal boxes.
In addition to the workshops and shindigs, it won’t be long before The Makery offers itself up as the go-to place for advice and resources for people’s own homemade projects. Pop in, pick a sewing machine and pull up a chair. “We are getting approached by lots of people with lots of different skills, so it’s really exciting,” Kate enthuses about The Makery’s potential directions. “Ultimately, we want to teach people to be a bit more resourceful and do things for themselves rather than having to go out and buy it.”
- TRAID ‘Sew Good’ workshops – free for all!
- An Interview with Kee Boutique, purveyor of vintage and handmade clothing and accessories…
- Birth-day – a participatory drawing project by Sam Winston to commemorate births and deaths as they happen
- The adaptable clothing solution
- Behind the Scenes at Print Club London: an interview with Kate Newbold Higginson