All-female exhibition featuring: Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Stine Deja, Enam Gbewonyo, Bex Ilsley, Juliette Mahieux Bartoli, Laila Majid, Alix Marie, Stacie McCormick, Marie Munk, Fern Lucia O'Carolan, Katarzyna Perlak, Cherelle Sappleton, Karolina Stellaki, Rebecca Wallis.
The exhibition title is taken from the Walt Whitman poem I Sing the Body Electric from 1855. Visionary for its time and increasingly relevant today, Whitman made the case for the inclusion of women in the democratic body by deconstructing the idea that the figure is always gendered- it is either male or female reducing social constructions to the idea of the “naked meat of the body”. Whitman’s thoughts about bodily communion as a metaphor for unifying America's demos,and his inability to openly write about the male body as he was unable to address his unconfirmed homosexuality at the time, effectively created a universal love-poem that can be applied to all bodies and the identity politics of today that has moved beyond these binaries to create a fluid, fragmented, and dynamic collectivity of possible sexualities that can vary at different points during one’s life.
To do this, part of the strategy was to focus on one part of the body at a time, essentially fragmenting the human body into separate parts, removing the traditionally scopophilic qualities of observing naked female bodies: “lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean”. This challenges the idea of the active male gaze put forward by feminist theorist Laura Mulvey, where men get pleasure and power from looking upon a passive female subject, dismantling and“decentralising” the male gaze, thereby removing the male position of authority and exposing the system of oppression.
We are witnessing the regrouping of feminism as a social movement across every area of society - from the “Time’s Up” movement in Hollywood to the International Women’s Strike - and the art industry is no exception. The increased efforts of art institutions and exhibitions pushing female only shows, like this one, has been met with some criticism, discrediting the merit of the work, instead placing priority on gender and nationalities. The diversity of the practices in We Sing The Body Electric highlight new ways that artists are dealing with the body- with a focus on it’s materiality which recalibrates the traditional female nude from the objectified into a confrontational subject, conveying an idea or universal reality, like Whitman’s poem.
“i sing the body electric,” walt whitman
O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are poems,
Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems;,
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest,
Upper-arm, arm-pit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, fore-finger, finger-balls, finger-joints, finger-nails,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, back-bone, joints of the back-bone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
Leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under leg,
Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body, or of any one’s body, male or female,
The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,
Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,
The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sun-burnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you, or within me, the bones, and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!