Friday, 3 February 2012


Embroidery on Canvas - 80x114cm

 ArtEroticaExhibition           Cork St

Margot Lemons has given us a spiky, sensual, spunky young woman, her heel brandished in the air like a weapon, staring straight out, unfazed at being found in her undies. She's safe inside an ornate frame which seems a bit incongruous. The artist chose it 'so as to refer to the innocence and splendour of the nude image as it has appeared for centuries in portrait paintings, presenting the female form as elegant and something to covet’.
What’s also striking is the contrast between the subject and the materials of which the picture is made. For the artist has used that softest and gentlest of crafts:  delicately sewn embroidery. A craft which exemplifies genteel femininity, leisure and domesticity, a world of samplers and tablecloths, tea cosies and babies' shawls.
But there's more to come. Instead of finishing the work off neatly at the back (some teachers say the back of an embroidered piece should be as neat and perfect as the front), the threads spring out of the canvas and hang down over its surface. Most disturbing of all are the threads which the needle has poked through the pupils of the eyes and are now running straight down the front of the canvas. You almost wince to see it. But you also want to touch and to tug at those loose threads.
Gemma reminds me of Tracey Emin’s My Bed, that much-maligned art work which everyone has a view about. What links it with Gemma? Both works let everything hang out and you could say that both works are the modern visual expression of a centuries-long written tradition: confessional writing by English (and other European) young women.  By ‘confessional’ I mean honest journal-writing which gave women a chance to express something of the turmoil and energy existing inside them. It was one of the few pastimes permitted during the long wait from childhood to the moment when a woman was snapped up in marriage.
In her other works, Lemons displays a grid of different female poses taken from magazines (women's, men’s and lifestyle), as well as from portrait paintings and pornography. She  asks if the viewer can identify where each came from? She concludes that it’s not only men’s magazines which exploit women as sexual objects.

It’s cheering to find an artist asking these questions. Years ago they occupied some of us a great deal of the time. We read Erving Goffman’s Gender Advertisements and Peter Berger’s Ways of Seeing and life was never the same. Until then we hadn’t noticed that in art and advertisements women were usually depicted lying down, on a  bed or a couch (sexual availability) or on the floor (dirt, the place where you put the dish for the dogs to eat from etc..). Men never went there, but stood upright, alert. Women, when allowed to stand, were either tethered to a man or stood with their weight unevenly balanced, unstable, ready to fall over at the poke of a finger tip. Women in these ads or paintings also displayed a rather careless disregard as to which bits of their body were on display, a habit not shared by men.

ArtEroticaExhibition poster
'One of the ways art communicates is by being provocative', says the eminent art critic Edward Lucie Smith, praising the judges for their selection in this exhbition, 'Shock is what makes you look... the works here contextuatize sex'. (He and Judy Chicago wrote Women and Art: contested territory, which I have not read).

One of the aims of the ArtEroticaExhibition is to raise funds for and alert people to the excellent work of FPA. It's a sexual health charity providing help and advice for people in need, running community projects and offering publications and other resources. The other aim is to display the work of aspiring as well as established artists

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