Volume 91, Issue 76

Thursday, February 12, 1998



Artistic penises of power

Graphic by Colin Dunne.

By Jordan Mitchell
Gazette Staff

Is it possible that all of the daunting skyscrapers around the world have been erected with the intention of fulfilling phallocentric agendas? Gerald Vaandering, curator of the Forest City Art Gallery's exhibition entitled Beyond the Phallus, suggests this is indeed the case. He explains that the phallus is associated with power, which he believes to be demonstrated by several objects like multi-story complexes that pepper large metropolitan centres.

With an attempt to move the art away from the centre of the anatomy, Vaandering says "a lot of men still think with their penises. That is why we wanted to show that men can be less of a dick and less domineering." The eight works of art on display by artists from London, Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary, hint at insecurities and questions felt, but perhaps not communicated by men.

Vaandering views the objective of the show as "an attempt to create a dialogue between men in how we see ourselves culturally." Artist Jack Niven shares a similar view. "It seems important for men to first create real dialogue with other men to question the ironic fragility which power creates in our souls." This dialogue is documented only in Niven's piece entitled "Love circa 1990," where large painted heads display the difficulty found in communication. The most obvious demonstration of fragility is brought out by two detailed paintings by Michael Caines. One depicts a man walking on a power cable over a city, on the brink of falling to his death. The other shows a man dead or knocked unconscious by the side of the road. These images require the least analysis in order to determine that phallus-swinging power trips can end quickly and suddenly.

One work which may require clarification is "Triptych," a three-picture series by Ottawa-based artist David Hill. The pictures succeed in the following pattern: first, a man and a pregnant woman looking at each other over a grave; second, the couple staring at the grave; and third, the couple looking at the viewer, holding hands over the grave, without a shred of clothing. Hill explains that the series represents "a death of our old selves and the emergence of something new." He also points out the insecurity involved in fathering a child. "While the woman is pregnant, the man is separated from what is going on inside." Hill believes that everything changes for a couple after experiencing a new addition. "The world just becomes very dangerous."

Less dangerously, Hill attempts to separate subject and object in his second piece, "A model for scientifically reconsidering the male gaze." The apparatus involves binoculars which are set up for the viewer to stare into a glass container with a piece of gauze suspended in a scientific solution. Although interesting, this piece resembles a high school experiment and seems to be skewed among the other attempts at keeping a man's zipper untouched.

Does the show succeed in avoiding the urge to display the male organ as an art form? Jill Price, administrative director for the gallery, believes that some pieces playfully deal with going beyond the phallus and others simply show man's vulnerabilities. "This collection shows that things that affect women also affect men, however differently that may be." She believes Vaandering felt he needed to show men celebrating their maleness.

Upon first inspection, a viewer will probably not notice any celebration of manhood. More probably, the visitor will see a limited collection of art, wherein he or she will scramble for linking bricks between the various artists' contributions. In the process of doing so, the viewer may very well use those bricks to construct a large tower that suspiciously resembles a penis.

The exhibition can be experienced at the Forest City Art Gallery on Dundas Street until March 22.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998