That woman, as nature has created her, and man at present is educating her, is man's enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work. 1
“If someone brings me something extremely new, I’d be the first to want to understand it’ 2
The ‘shock’ of Sarah Lucas’s (S.L) recent works I attribute to the artist’s singular determination to breach the gender divide (with it’s litany of misogynist traps) in order to occupy a kind of infra-space of the in-between. One could argue without true equivalence between men and women, there is really one gender [male] pitted in opposition to its ‘others’. Also, given the malaise affecting feminist and post-feminist discourses regarding the ‘male gaze’ and just how arduous a task to respond with a ‘female gaze’ it is, shows just how much of an achievement S.L.’s de/re/construction of the phallic order offers to the ‘canon’ of art.
By appropriating misogynist signifiers (slang, puns etc.,) and reframing/reforming them S.L., signifies to the patriarchy itself the ontological crime that a female artist necessarily commits in order to act as ‘author’ - as philosopher and linguist Luce Irigaray herself knows, (in contrast to the existential freedom that is man’s claim to voice their authority on the death of the author) women are without a voice - are outside of language.
Having appropriated then embodied the language of misogyny through her work over the past two decades and mastered it (see how there are no words appropriate for the true level of her achievement?), we now find S.L. in love and expressing the desire she experiences for her lover. It is from this place of love and authorship that S.L. breaches the symbolic power of the phallus to show us a tantric eros we have not seen before - something extremely new indeed.
In PATRICK MORE, (see Figure 1 below) a bronze sculpture from 2013, S.L. sculpts a form of eros (always a cultural ‘disturbance’) we have not seen or encountered before through which female desire for the penis manifests eros in the form of joyous objects. What S.L. shows us is in this and other works is how the world might transform if women were enabled to be equal (yet different) to men. The penis is rarely re-presented as an object of mystery, as an object of female intimacy and desire- it is too total a signifier of cultural i.e., political power. Few male or female (see below) artists, to my knowledge, tackle the tackle and (heterosexual) male artists can’t represent the penis as an object of desire because they are not ‘other’ to it.
To my knowledge, no other artist has turned the representation game on its side (phallocentricity is vertical) the way S.L has, without a will to appropriate, control or turn the male gaze back on itself (as many other artists of her generation might) but rather she shapes and guilds the phallus with a uniquely female embrace of desiring and loving (a truly new transformation of the ‘canon’).
Figure 1: PATRICK MORE (2013). Photo: © Sarah Lucas.
In her monograph Nob, published on the occasion of Secession in 2013 by S.L. and Julian Simmons, S.L.’s working methods and processes are laid bare. Reading in-between the ‘slang’ and photographs scattered throughout the book, there hidden amongst the images of S.L casting objects is the implicit fact that S.L. has reversed the gender stereotyping by having Simmons assume the role of artist’s muse - as a living and libidinal object for continuous casting (refer to Figures 2 and 3). What these black and white photographs of Nob reveal is a heretofore unseen of female desire and sensuality freed from stale sexual power relations into a pure state of erotic play… Also,
Figure 2: Detail of ‘Nob’ (2013). Photo: © Sarah Lucas.
there is something Dionysian about Simmons’s nature and appearance in the images, especially as Simmons appears to surrender his ‘masculinity’ so freely - to being so completely ‘in the hands’ of S.L. This is the gift he gives in his role as ‘muse’.
Figure 3: Detail of ‘Nob’ (2013). Photo: © Sarah Lucas
I have not seen anything quite like this work before, in that, what is familiar (especially as a male artist) - the phallus - is made unfamiliar through erotic plasticity... a sculpted ‘hand job’... a magic form of play that completes a circle of eros and opens the way to a tantric consciousness. As a profound departure (from under the arm) of the hand that ‘castrated’ the male gaze (e.g., the phallic work of Bourgeois, or Benglis), S.L. emerges out from the doldrums of postfeminism (having lived in relative isolation) and shows a way forward. Her achievement and it’s implications for those of us who crave a humane equality cannot be underestimated
Edited in consultation with Michelle Lewis-King
1 From Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs (1870), page 208.
2 Marcel Duchamp quoted by Pierre Cabanne on page 94, in Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (1971).