For the first time, the be contemporary gallery in Stroud has had to attach a disclaimer to an exhibition: some images are not appropriate for those under the age of 13, without parental guidance.
The new show, which opens on Oct. 29, is titled ‘Passion & Pretense.’ The gallery brochure describes it as an exhibit of erotica as interpreted by artists at varying stages in their careers – “an art form that is universal and still expressed openly, yet… within the mainstream of cultural institutions, decontextualized, suppressed and hidden from view.”
Curator and artist Ted Fullerton explains: “I was always interested in bringing forward an exhibition of erotica,” as perceived by a range of artists working in a variety of media.
Ever since his student days in life drawing class, he has been aware of how concepts of what is erotic, passionate and just plain sexy have been shaped by culture, its taboos and politics.
In the late 19th and 20th centuries, artists – mostly male – objectified the female form; really only since the 1970s and the rise of feminism men have begun to be held accountable, Fullerton says. “As a result, the men hid and the women moved forward, with their own perceptions of erotica.”
The challenge for the show was to bring together that range of visions, and to give them equal validity. “Is there a way to bring erotica forward, so both men and women can show erotica together?” he muses.
The show, Passion & Pretense, explores the erotic and sensual from various points of view, from the implied to the explicit, in works by Fullerton himself, gallery-owner Jeanette Luchese, and a number of established and emerging artists that include Luci Dilkus, John Hartman, Michelle Nguyen, Laura Hudspith, Cheryl Ruddock and Sasha Shevchenko.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t porn. The “Passion” in the title is an expression of intensity – “for place, form, person, or even a process,” Fullerton notes.
For artist Jeanette Luchese, ‘Passion’ is the act of painting itself, the sensuous use of color and form. “To engage in painting – it’s a somatic experience. It’s passionate,” Fullerton says.
For established artist John Hartman, the passion lies hidden in metaphor, symbolism, and lush colour. ‘Iris and Poppy,’ on loan from a private collection, is a landscape created within a narrative of myth and allegory, built around images of sensual flowers and a pollinating bee.
To Fullerton, it’s nothing if not erotic: “The perpetuation of life is an act of physical engagement.”
Which leads to the ‘Pretense’ in the title. Pretense can be defined as something false or ambitious – in other words, something that can be seen as either negative or positive, he notes.
It opens up the possibility of personal interpretation, of dialogue – challenging the viewer to see the works “in a way that is open,” he says, and to ask, “What am I looking at? To critically think about and engage with it in a way that is very open.”
Fullerton’s own painting, ‘Touch’ provides an example. “Touch can facilitate so many things – everything from healing, to support – to erotica.”
Every work is an invitation to the viewer to explore, and interpret in light of their own experiences.
Several artists create very personal connections between body, desire and perception. The show includes photos of an installation by emerging artist Laura Hudspith, using her own body as a model – expressing a personal vulnerability and understanding that comes from her struggle with autoimmune disease.
Her piece, ‘On Illness,’ uses soft flesh, hard plaster and cast concrete, and fetishized plants; hand-like Aloe vera clasps her body, a fruiting seed pod rests upon a cast of her leg, to create a self-portrait.
Like Hudspith, artist Luci Dilkus uses herself as a model for her work, ‘I have a heart on for you’ – a series of photos that go beyond the nude and the naked, to expose her own vulnerability and mortality while wearing a heart monitor.
It’s a different view of the body, a series of images that under other circumstances would be clearly erotic. “This dichotomy is what intrigued me about this work,” says Fullerton.
The show includes the sensuous, the seductive, the vulnerable, the openly erotic – which takes courage in the current climate.
“These days, a lot of galleries are cautious about what they are showing,” Fullerton notes. In an era of Silent No More, Me Too and Black Lives Matter, all imagery is personal and open to interpretation and often, “It becomes political.”
Which is why it’s all the more important to have the discussions, to engage and be open to the perceptions shared by the artists.
In addition to the main exhibit, the smaller gallery space at be contemporary houses, ‘Pollination,’ an installation by William Moore. Moore has hung ten examples of his lens-based art, taken on his own property over the months of the pandemic – a photograph a day.
“It’s just a musing – really a visual diary,” Moore says, a photo essay that mirrors Passion and Pretense. For those who might have forgotten, flowers are all about seduction and sex – using form, colour and scent to entice pollinators into the ‘act.’
“Birds do it. Bees do it,” says Moore. “Plants as well.”
Both Passion and Pretense, and Pollination open on Oct. 29, continuing to Nov. 21 – open Thursday to Sunday, between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The gallery, located at 7869 Yonge St. in Stroud, is currently following COVID-19 protocols, and limiting the number of visitors allowed inside at any one time. Visitors are asked to book a time to visit, by emailing [email protected] or calling 705-431-4044.
On Saturday Oct. 31, Ted Fullerton will be on hand from 2 to 4 p.m., to talk about the exhibit and the artwork. For more information, click here.
“It’s looking past the imagery,” said Luchese, noting that each work is accompanied by a detailed artist’s statement that provides a description and background. “For me, I am just ecstatic – this is an amazing show.”