INTANGIBLE BODIES 1999
a collaboration with Elaine Shemilt
- a series of 30 digital prints and etchings.
Interpretation of INTANGIBLE BODIES by John Calcutt
Stephen Partridge shares the interests of many of those artists who, since the 1960s, have become interested in the the influence of culture and technology upon the act of looking. In ... for one of your smiles, for instance, his exploration of computer manipulated imagery is part of his wider concern with such questions. In an age when a vast amount of our knowledge of the world takes the form of mass media images of that world (film, television, press photographs, etc.) it is not surprising that artists should take a keen interest in them. We are so used to seeing these images that it is easy for us to forget that initially we had to learn how to read them. It may come as a shock when we find that people living in societies where films have never been seen before find them bewildering; because they have never learnt the filmic conventions of editing, jump cuts, flashbacks, and so on, they are confused. We may feel a similar sense of dismay when faced for the first time with images based upo cultural references which are unfamiliar to us, such as Wild Style graffiti art, Australian aboriginal dream paintings, or abstract painting, for example. All of this suggests that looking (at art, certainly) is something which we have to learn, and that seeing images has something in common with reading a language.
There are further implications here, however. If looking is a cultural skill which we must learn, then it cannot be free of cultural influences. When we start to think about our own culture and the values and assumptions which are embedded in it, it doesn't take long to realise that men occupy it differently than women. Another way of putting this would be to claim that the 'masculine' is generally valued above the 'feminine' in this culture. The masculine is associated with power, prestige, action, intellectualism, culture, etc., whereas the feminine is associated with weakness, secondariness, passivity, emotionalism, nature, etc. (This is certainly not to claim that all women are weak, secondary, passive, etc. On the contrary. It is merely to point to the kind of associations which overwhelmingly accompany the idea of the 'feminine' in our culture.) It is therefore difficult to resist the conclusion that there is a 'masculine' way of viewing the world, and a 'feminine.'
In Intangible Bodies, Partridge and Shemilt explore this highly charged question of gendered looking. Partridge's contribution is a series of digitally manipulated laser prints. These images derive from Japanese soft pornography magazines, featuring partially undressed young women in stylish surroundings. By removing the women's bodies, leaving only their clothes hovering mysteriously in their original settings, Partridge produces images which disturb and frustrate the desire of the male gaze for erotic satisfaction. It is not only the women's bodies which are now removed from sight and rendered 'untouchable'; the very glossiness of the laser printed surfaces, combined with our knowledge that the images have been altered by Partridge by means of impersonal, digital techniques of manipulation, make these pictures curiously detached, clinical and non-tactile. Never the less, despite the hiding of the women's bodies from the sexual inquisitiveness of the male eye, the visual sumptuousness of the settings and the sculptural sensuality of their garments perhaps still offer a source of redirected pleasure - the perverse pleasure of the fetishist.
Any erotic satisfaction which the (male) viewer might gain from Partridge's images is, however, challenged by Shemilt's series of etchings which are paired with them. It is as if Shemilt offers a 'feminine gaze' to counteract the dominance of the 'masculine gaze'. By offering a pictorial contradiction to Partridge's manipulated images (they dispense with elaborate settings, they are monochromatic, the images have been impressed into absorbent paper, the process of image generation is additive rather than subtractive, they retain evidence of the artist's hand, etc.) they draw our attention to the inadequacy and sheer relativity of the male view of the world - and its view of female sexuality in particular.
see also John Calcutt's article for catalogue essay Ghost in the Machine
© 1999 Stephen Partridge / Elaine Shemilt
© 1999 John Calcutt