20 August 2014 > 05 September 2014 You are kindly invited to the opening of the exhibition: A Real Man, by Nataša Skušek. The opening will take place at the Alkatraz Gallery, ACC Metelkova mesto, on Wednesday, 20th August 2014 at 8pm.
Nataša Skušek often problematizes deeply rooted taken-for-granted notions, stereotypes and roles socially attributed and ascribed to women. Pregnancy, motherhood, household chores, partner relationship, alimentation, leisure time activities, appearance, and fetishization of women’s body, represent the elements making up the content of her artworks. This time, the author has retained the topic of relationship, but directed her focus more on the man. A Real Man is a fanned out video-audio installation including a sculpture which makes an absurd caricature of the contrast of the social roles ascribed to a woman and a man in a partner relationship. She is asking herself what the term “a real man” means to either of the partners, inquiring into their wishes, expectations, disappointments, and traumas in a relationship.
In her video works the artist investigates different ways to please one’s partner, and how to care for him. Our culture has created a myth about the woman who is - if she wants to be a “real woman” - a complete opposite to the man. In different cultures, a woman should, from the prehistoric time onwards, symbolically embody the purity of innocence, an ideal mother, who is emotional and subordinate to a man. The myth pathologizes women by imposing on them a certain structure - inside which they have to find their own way about - by prescribing to biological women an exactly determined, quite particular social role. Their fulfilment of this role is expected to a much greater scope than the women themselves would like to act it out. Because of the uneasiness stemming from this, the depicted woman intensifies her care for the partner by becoming ever more pathologically obsessive. Tenderness as a reflection of “excessive” care for the partner – due to the exaggerated pressure of expectation - turns into a violent punishment, consequently resulting in lessened, or even completely diminished pleasure of the partner.
In the central plane of her video entitled Golica there is a backside clad in silver panties. She is dancing while somebody (a man) is prompting the rhythm by whistling the mentioned folk pop tune. The performance which should fulfil the desire for pleasure, and is supposed to be attractive to the partner, loses all its edge to the banality of the entertaining beat, while hinting that sex appeal alone is not enough in a relationship for it lacks the scrupulous performance of household chores. The video khm khm intensifies care to compulsion. It shows the upper part of a body, and partially a face of a man, being fed by someone (a woman). Depersonalized man is gulping the food as a machine, smacking, but hardly catching up with huge portions, while coughing and choking. The video can be read as assuaging the hunger, growing into gluttony. The man’s gluttony leads into despair and irritation of the woman failing to satisfy him, which the reason for punishing him by the principle: “you asked for it, now swallow it". The video arises mixed feelings; the feeding is violent in itself, while at the same time includes a note of cuteness. It is like feeding a child not used to eating, so swallowing is causing him/her trouble. There is no distinction between good and bad, the woman’s care, and the desire are traversing over into violence; the man’s pleasure and his indulgence in food - into choking. In the video Heri we see a close-up of an ear, long hairs growing out of it, and someone (a woman) combing them and plaiting them. Her annoyance caused by his untidiness and, in her opinion, insufficient hygienic standards, results in her taking the initiative to start tidying his appearance her way. “Her way” does not necessarily mean something positive; clearly shown to us by the final result.
The installation and the video sound – the sarcastic parable of relationship happiness and satisfaction – are jammed by a couple of audio recordings in a loop. One of them is an audio indication of a washing machine or dryer that the cycle is finished, recorded with random pauses. The other sound is a track recorded on a CD, scratching, and repeating itself. The sounds illustrate household chores, always disturbing one’s life and a “housewife”, but not him, as it is “common knowledge” and a fact that the duty to finish the chore is hers.
The viewer follows the fil rouge that confronts her/him with the dichotomy between the woman’s aspiration to satisfy the man, and the woman as a subject trapped in a position of uneasiness. The woman and the man are social constructs, who never really meet as real subjects; everything is a mere phantasm, indicating a need and desire of both partners in a relationship to satisfy each other. The desire for pleasure always brings one of them into the state of uneasiness, and it is here that a viewer keeps asking her/himself who is the one who really enjoys oneself. The feeling that overwhelms us while looking at the artworks is that to provoke a man’s pleasure, an object of phantasm is always needed, whilst a woman needs no object to induce her pleasure, and can enjoy herself even in its absence.
At the exhibition, we shall not find an answer what a real man is, but we will be able to decipher some answers concerning partnership dynamics within a man-woman relationship. Too high expectations causing work overload and dissatisfaction end up in excessive care and treatment – similarly to the one for a helpless baby, exceedingly and over-controlling, intrude into the autonomy of an individual. The Brown Teddy-Bear (Rjavi Medvedek) sculpture, a copy of an illustration from the Brown Teddy Bear Playing in a Bathtub picture book (1), consisting of a bathtub filled with water, stresses that. In a relationship, an adult represents a teddy bear playing with water, therefore a child. Part of the exhibition is also a table with a bouquet of flowers, and some meringue cookies, in Slovenian called Spanish Winds. Cookies represent an element the artist often incorporates in her exhibitions; always bearing a bitter-sweet message. In the above case the Winds allude to flatulence, conveying the message that even the things that are supposedly good in relationships, like pleasing the partner, and care for the partner, can become stale if they originate from wrong presumptions.
Nataša Skušek is trying to surpass the binary division to the male and female principle, and points at a danger of mythologization of the original male or female principle. The subjects and their pleasure are sexually determined, the female and male principle do exist, but are equal, and yet completely different. In her works the artist indicates and exposes the social position of the woman in relation to the man’s pleasure, and vice versa, as stated by Jacques Lacan “there is no such thing as a sexual relationship”. Herewith she is opening the nature of the artwork to the field of mythologization and phantasm about the integrity of male and female pleasure and relationship.
Nataša Skušek (1967) studied Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana where she graduated in 2002, and obtained her M.F.A three years later. At the time of her studies she gained more expertise at the academy in Trondheim, Norway. She has received the Prešeren Award for students. She has presented her opus at several international exhibitions; to list just a selection of the most important ones: Break 2.2 Festival, Ljubljana, Slovenia (2003), International Festival 8th of March, Erevan, Armenia (2005), 2nd Feminist Festival FemFest (2. feministički festival FemFest), Zagreb, Croatia, (2007), 13th International Festival of Contemporary Art The City of Women (13. mednarodni festival sodobnih umetnosti Mesto žensk), Ljubljana, Slovenia (2007), 2009 Incheon Women Artists' Biennale, South Korea (2009), Feminist Art in Slovenia (Feministična umetnost v Sloveniji), Ljubljana, Slovenia (2010), as well as at numerous solo exhibitions, amongst which Mummy, Doula, Wife, Carer (Mamica, dojilja, žena, negovalka), P74 Centre and Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia (2006). Her works are part of numerous private and some important public collections. She is engaged in sculpture, video, photography, performance, and new media, focusing on research of the cultural paradigm of western man, especially the topics like the relationship between the two sexes, erotism, sexuality, the body, maternity/motherhood, family, feeding. She lives and works in Ljubljana.
(1) The text by Marie Aubinais, illustrated by Daniele Bour, translated by Borut Petrovič Jesenovec, Didakta 2006
Special thanks to: Mojca Založnik.
Photos from the opening by: Sunčan P. Stone.