ImageThis work is to be included on an exhibition exploring the erotic in art, entitled Velvet. The exhibition is curated by Christiaan Diedericks as part of the 2013 ABSA Klein Karoo National Arts Festival visual arts programme.

Even though Barthes eagerly proclaimed the death of the author, much contemporary art involves a degree of performance on the part of the artist – to paraphrase Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present.

Gell, in Art and Agency (1998), distinguishes between a performer, who is a initiating ‘agent’ and a passive recipient called a ‘patient’. A Western understanding of art presupposes the correlation between agent and artist on the one side and between patient and spectator on the other, but Gell suggests that art is a medium for energy transferences.  Informed by Communication theory Gell identifies four elements in this process:  artist, recipient, index (the material artwork), and prototype (the subject represented). Gell attributes both patient- and agent power to every constituent of an art process, for example the subject may commission an artist to do a portrait in a certain way, and of course the viewer who may decide to decode the index in a particular way. Looking (decoding), however is not a neutral activity but, socially constructed; as described by Sturken and Cartwright:

“Through looking we negotiate social relationships and meanings. Looking is a practice much like speaking, writing, or signing. Looking involves learning to interpret and, like other practices, looking involves relationships of power.”

Informed by this, my idea is to depict both the artist and the model in the same frame in an effort to show how the artist inscribes or projects eroticism onto the body of the subject – the model, as a knowing subject and participant, is however complicit in this performance. The relationship between artist, subject and index mediates the performance of erotic display. Yet in the end the viewer determines her/his own reading of the artwork.

Since aesthetic pleasure, like the erotic, is a highly subjective experience, I also see this as analogous to the process of art making – with the artist as protagonist through whom desire for the creative act becomes embodied in an artwork or idea that has the power to arouse visual and emotional pleasure in the viewer – who in turn loves looking.

Velvet exhibition view, KKNK 2013

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