Sexual State Experiment 「性態実験」 (2009-10)
ISHIGURO Kenichirō 石黒賢一郎
About a week ago, I posted an entry about the contemporary artist ISHIGURO Kenichirō 石黒賢一郎. In it, I talked at some length about this striking, provocative life-size drawing, and so I thought I would post a better version of it here.
In looking at it again now, I realize once again how challenging this image is. At the same time the artist is revealing the woman to us in astonishingly vivid, photographic detail, he also hides her from us with the mask. For many viewers, this combination of hypervisuality and hiding, sexuality and danger, may take on sinister overtones, reminding us of Abu Ghraib, which is still uncomfortably close to us in memory.
The woman’s body is available to us in this picture, but her interiority (as read through the face) is not. Meanwhile, all the BDSM tools surrounding her (ropes, gags, etc.) are precisely things to reduce her presence to her body by hiding or suppressing movement, speech, and facial expression. One could read this work as an allegorical study of the knowability of the interior. How much can we ever read desire on the outside of the body? Aren’t we constantly testing, constantly experimenting with sexual states through the gaze? In fact, as Freud taught us on his work on the fetish, the very interruption of the gaze represents the mechanism that incites desire on the part of the viewer.
In some ways, this painting replicates the mechanisms of the gaze so common in art history (male, dominant, objectifying), yet at the same time, the interruption of the gaze caused by the mask compels us to question that very act of looking. What exactly are we seeing in this picture? Her or ourselves? In the end, our gaze turns back upon ourselves and inward, as we question ourselves, our motivations for looking at this picture, and the feelings (sexual or otherwise) that it provokes within the viewers. In the end, the subjects of Ishiguro’s sexual state experiment turns out to be us.