Installation detail (all images courtesy of the artists and SOFA Ilam Campus Gallery)

Lady Godiva, Peeping Tom and a Dusky-Hued Rent Boy: by Sach Catts

‘The Countess Godiva, who was a great lover of God's mother, longing to free the town of Coventry from the oppression of a heavy toll, often with urgent prayers besought her husband that, from regard to Jesus Christ and his mother, he would free the town from that service and from all other heavy burdens; and when the Earl sharply rebuked her for foolishly asking what was so much to his damage, and always forbade her evermore to speak to him on the subject; and while she, on the other hand, with a woman's pertinacity, never ceased to exasperate her husband on that matter, he at last made her this answer: "Mount your horse and ride naked, before all the people, through the market of this town from one end to the other, and on your return you shall have your request.”
‘On which Godiva replied, "But will you give me permission if I am willing to do it?"
‘"I will," said he.[i]

It is unwise to hang around the back end of a horse. Temptation may urge one to stroke the rump’s enticing curve. But hastily assuming intimacy with the beast is dangerous. The animal carries an instinct to repel any advances from the rear with a powerful kick of its hind legs. Let it see you first, let it know your intentions. Francesca Heinz’s horses offer no safe avenue for encroachment.  Hind legs and rump are the only anatomy we have to savour. The gallery wall attenuates the animals from the flank forward. To attain an intimate proximity one must also come within range of the instinctual kick. However, the isolation of these anatomical features invites their objectification. In this state they offer the viewer an alluring ambiguity. Their equine associations are allowed to slip and blur. We begin to see them as hips, a shapely arse atop slender legs. Their latex skin is closer to a tanned human hide than a mare’s shiny coat. They are hairless save for the blonde tail. Casually observed, they appear anatomically female. (On closer inspection they lack any sex organs at all). They exude the erotic pull of a woman’s buttocks, only intensified by the tail. Horsetail anal plugs exist because there is a market for them.

The image of a woman, bent at the hips, with her buttocks presented toward the viewer is a trope etched with female sexual subjugation. ‘Twerking’, the now ubiquitous dance move, plays off these associations. The woman is ‘presenting’, as a mare or bitch in heat would, calling the dominant male to take her from behind. She is inviting penetration, but is also powerless to resist. The allure of this vision is inextricable from the woman’s debasement. She is reduced to the status of the animal. She wants it doggy style. This flavour of sexual allure may attract one to Heinz’s horses, their taxonomic indeterminacy enhancing the excitement. One should remember the opening warning however. Sexual allure may prove to be a siren’s song, drawing one within range of a swift kick in the rocks.

On February 11, 2006, the Washington State Senate made bestiality a Class C felony punishable by five years imprisonment and/or a US$10 000 fine. The legislation was passed unanimously. (An ordinarily rare accord, but one can imagine a voting record that appeared to support zoophilia tarnishing a senator’s re-election campaign)[ii]. This addition to the state’s legal code came in response to the death of Kenneth Pinyan. Pinyan had sustained a perforated colon, leading to acute peritonitis, during an act anal intercourse with a stallion. The injury was received in the town of Enumclaw. The 2006 bestiality laws also prohibited filming or photography of sexual acts between humans and animals. A video recording shot shortly prior to his death depicts Pinyan engaged in an act of anal intercourse with a horse. Substantial media attention was given to the events in Enumclaw. The aforementioned video has since been circulated widely on the Internet. Witnessing the manner in which horses mate begins to explain their (or at least the female’s) instinct to kick when approached unexpectedly from behind.

Heinz’s horses are erotically anthropomorphic. Conversely, describing Terakes’ work as ‘erotic’ seems an uncomfortable fit. Herein, sex is engaged with at its most superficial. A seesaw sets the tone. A simple mechanism formed by a timber plank pivoting on a concrete block, it analogises the sexual act, reducing it to a mechanical sequence of penetration followed by withdrawal. It could seem excessively Freudian to claim a piece of playground equipment as an intercourse analogy, were it not for the big black dick and sweet pink cupcake adjacent to it. This is sex to the adolescent boy: the linking of a big, hard rod to a sugary treat through a bit of the ol’ in-out, accented by ‘interracial’ pornography. The embroidered banners presiding over this copulatory diorama offer homespun homages to a selection of topics that engage and titillate the post-capitalist Western consciousness. Their concerns fit onto a continuum from the stupid to the sinister: ‘SEAFOLLY’ – the only Australian swimwear brand anyone can remember. A progression away from trivialities has to begin somewhere; in this case it begins with hot chicks in bikinis.

Enumclaw. As with most paraphilias, sex with a horse arouses juvenile amusement. As we get older it is elevated to ‘morbid fascination’ - a curious attraction to some perceived sickness. The name Enumclaw is alien to most. To the privileged, reference to the rural locale produces amusement progressively inflected with discomfort. However, there is nothing funny about Pogo the Clown. An appropriation of an appropriation, the stitched image is based on a painting by serial killer and rapist John Wayne Gacy. Gacy produced the work on death row. The painting depicts Pogo, a character he had assumed at public events and children’s parties, and was later purchased and exhibited in an exhibition of his own work by the late Mike Kelley. Kelley and Terakes’ appropriations speak to the Western mind’s obsession with violent psychopathy; an obsession accounting for a spectrum of cultural ubiquity running from true crime to Nazi memorabilia. This amusement is inexplicable to most and, upon interrogation, troubling. Similar to realizing you’re aroused by a horse’s arse.

‘Work hard, try not to be too bored, don’t do too much fornicating; conserve your strength: an ounce of sperm lost is worse than ten pounds of blood. By the way you ask me if I consummated that business at the baths. Yes – and on a pockmarked young rascal wearing a white turban. It made me laugh, that’s all. But I’ll be at it again. To be done well an experiment must be repeated.”’[iii]

The Middle East has lost some of its romance in Western eyes. It remains the oriental other but the hint of trepidation that made the region exotic and alluring to Gustave Flaubert has been inflated and transmogrified into terror. You can still go to Afghanistan to get high. However, the opium has been refined to high-grade heroin and if you don’t get kidnapped and beheaded because your government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, your drug dependence may problematise making it to Kabul airport for a 7:30 a.m. flight. However, turbans are still fairly benign.

The view, attributed to the West by Said and held in the West by Flaubert of the region as a wonderland of palm trees, apple tea and dusky-hued rent boys conflicts with contemporary occidental concerns and the de rigueur conclusions of dinner party political analysis that flow from them. The attitude is of resignation. The colonial playground is momentarily redacted. The region is one of perpetual conflict and militant tribalism, and has been since the dawn of history. The most fiercely contested plot of land in history. Reconciled accordingly, at the same time that Flaubert waxed idyllic, the locals were slaughtering each other wholesale. This dinner party commentary sounds imperialistic: reductive conclusions beyond the experience of those who peddle it. But the West has a right to speak for the Middle East. This is laid out in the name we give it, a title only identifying its position relative to us. This geopolitical entity is an invention and dependent subject of the West.

Kirk’s turbans act as ciphers for these paradoxes. The turban, a form of traditional headwear based on wound cloth. They are customary in a range of cultures, predominantly in the Middle East, North Africa, Central and South Asia in a plethora of regional styles. These specificities are not acknowledged in Kirk’s forms. The turban here is a generic article, the same form repeated across a colour selection. They conjure the Middle East: a general sense of it but nothing more, really. A symbol: a screen for our projections. The lone collage acts as a prototype. Its signifying function laid bare as the Palimpsest, the tablet which is washed bare for each viewer to inscribe their projections on anew. The reference to Levi-Strauss is almost too obvious – floating turbans as floating signifiers.[iv] These forms offer only enough to begin imagining the other. As to the romance; they’ll have to seduce us. They should probably get advice from the horses.

‘Then she rode back, clothed on with chastity;/ 
And one low churl, compact of thankless earth,/ 
The fatal byword of all years to come,/ 
Boring a little auger-hole in fear,/ 
Peep'd -  but his eyes, before they had their will,/ 
Were shrivel'd into darkness in his head,/ 
And dropt before him.’[v]

[i] Roger of Wendover, Chronica (1236). Edwin Widney Hartland, English Fairy and other Folk Tales (London: Walter Scott Publishing Company, n.d. [ca. 1890], pp. 55-56.
[ii] , Charles Mudede, "The Animal In You" The Stranger, February–March, 2006, (accessed 16/9/13).
[iii] Gustave Flaubert, Francis Steegmüller, The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830–1857, Harvard University Press (1980), p. 121.
[iv] Claude Levi-Strauss, Introduction to Marcel Mauss, (1987) London: Routledge, 63-64.
[v] Extract from Alfred Tennyson Baron Tennyson, Frank Laurence Lucas ed, “Godiva” Alfred, Lord Tennyson: An Anthology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1932), p. 91.

(Originally published published as a catalogue essay for Francesca Heinz, Eloise Kirk and Ben Terakes' exhibition "Milksop" at the SOFA Ilam Campus Gallery, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand in 2013)

No comments: