Peep At Tom
by Alex Murray
21-22 April 2005
Sheffield Hallam University, Psalter Lane Campus, Sheffield
By Wy Dot Com
Directly opposite the main doors of the Sheffield Hallam campus building: a dark doorway. Inside, darkness… a feeling of something big going on.
At the opposite end of the darkened room, projected from a bank of machines mid-floor, a huge triptych. The central, dominant image: the artist as Marilyn Monroe, nude, draped on scutched silk. In full colour, hazed slightly like a 1950’s photograph. And supporting this image to the right the artist as Velasquez odalisque (“The position was excruciating to copy”: cramped back, neck twisted unnaturally, the spine posed but unsupported by position of limbs…), and on the left a similar odalisque, book- ending the central image.
Along the walls three matched projections, take-offs of 1950’s slasher B film posters: scantily-clad women victims, torn clothes, cowering figures, and looming over them…
Except that the artist is male, bearded.
The ambient sound that of male Gregorian song: melodic, sinuous, and yet aesthetic.
Attention to detail: his hair blonde here, red there, the Marilyn all blonde curls, the Velasquez in turban. (“Sleeping in rollers… a nightmare…”, “…my hair dry and brittle with all the colour changes, scalp sore…”)
This is not just a skit on 1950’s sexual naivety, it’s a take on double standards, then retaken again on art’s history of double standards, to re-take on that our own supposed sophistication. From dialogue, to conference call.
Walk around, examine the pictures: your own image, black and looming, stands over the cowering figures. Power. Whose power? Who is the powerful figure here? The side pictures cower before you, whilst Marilyn looks down, looks on, and as we would have her: enjoys what we do. Or is it, enjoys us?
The reversals of stereotype open up like a wall of mirrors.
Boys tightly clutch their girlfriends’ hands, as they examine the floor, other men make excuses and leave rapidly: the exposure of flesh, voluptuously available on the wall: gaze your fill. The women do; they like the reversals, they are empowered by the male made vulnerable. He is no more real than the woman, and just as vulnerable, if not more so.
The gay woman, taken aback, thanking the artist, real gratitude, for what he has done here; a challenge that unhinges the daily challenge all women undergo.
The physical discomfort of the art poses, if not virtual physical impossibility: Velsasquez’ elongated spine, extra vertebrae in the neck; the sheer physical grind to produce an image of luxury; the physical pain undergone for a fleeting image of pleasure…. What are we to want this? Nigel Spivey’s recent tv series ‘How Art Made the World’ pointedly shows how art, almost by physical necessity, must distort to please: the Venus of Willendorff, and the classical Greek statues: all impossible forms.
And yet we seek them. Do we? Or are they what are offered, on an ‘only option’ type choice-basis?
From dialogue, to conference call.
The challenge of naked flesh; but also the ‘be like me; you too can have perfect hair/teeth/legs/breasts…’. But here, facing the challenge, but with the strategy of the artist: outside this room you can go back to being who/what you were, the artist, for the duration of our stay changes the rules sufficiently to disengage something we maybe thought unchangeable.
Something may happen in the brain, a gear change perhaps; do you feel something shift; you feel the drive changing.
Maybe, for once, at last, we can move… forward, even.
The artist is Alex Murray, formerly of Cheshire. A first year art student (2nd degree) on Sheffield Hallam University’s Fine Arts Degree course. He is also photographer, performance artist and illustrator.
Exhibition acknowledges Dulcie and Nile Reynders for help with prepartion of slide photographs, staging, makeup.