Twice a year, we accept six local artist into our Fellowship program and into our community.  The fellows get free studio spaces in our building, a materials stipend, and professional development throughout their six month tenure with us.  In return we ask that they dedicate 60 hours to volunteering in North Omaha and engaging with the community we work with and in.  You'll get to hear from all our current and future Fellows a few times a month from our new FROM THE STUDIO blog series.  To kick off the series, here's current Fellow Laura Carlson.  

Live: No Refunds 

Live: No Refunds 

“There’s art and then there’s putting a bunch of s*** together and calling it art.” –spectator’s reaction to my recent exhibition at Petshop Gallery, Live: No Refunds. Boy, would I love to go to a museum with her!

And recent it was, after sleeping for 72 hours and forgetting that I volunteered to write this blog post 2 days after the opening, I’m entering the world of living again to enliven you with the filthiest details of my most recent work.

Live: No Refunds was a continuation of my interest in situation making.  I work in multiple forms of media in order to create an environment in which I consider reactions of the individuals who encounter and interact within the space.  The environment serves as a platform to scrutinize the heteropatriarchal power structures in which we live and navigate.

This exhibition extended from my interest in sexually oriented businesses (S.O.B.’s) and the way aggressive objectification is accepted in the everyday. I visited six (six!) strip clubs during the month of May and interviewed women who have been or currently are erotic dancers.  S.O.B.’s fascinate me from multiple stand points; however, it is spectatorship that I find the most compelling.  I decided to transform Petshop Gallery into a simulated strip club as a research experiment into compulsory spectatorship.

In an attempt to invert the male gaze, viewers were immediately presented with 4 naked and saran wrapped women writhing on a glittering wooden stage.  While the behavior at strip clubs is a consensual and transactional, it was mandatory for the audience to participate in the power dynamics often associated with looking, or The Gaze.

The Gaze is often described as a manifestation of assymetrical power positions between the gazer and the objectified gazed. The Gaze is inverted as the dancers, having volunteered to participate, in the obligatory Gaze of the unaware spectators, are establishing themselves as the position of power. While there are four naked women plastic wrapped, dancing in the middle of the red-lit gallery, the real art objects were the spectators. The gallery bred visceral discomfort in most who entered. The space was compact, the women were above eye-level, and the smell of their sweat saturated the space.

While, the disruption of the viewer’s visual realm was brief, I see it as a simultaneously brief disruption of the patriarchy. It is not easy or comfortable to confront the institutionalized Gaze.  Some may have felt uncomfortable due to the shame we place upon women’s bodies and sexuality, some due to the fact that the space was small and charged with the exhaustion that comes with being subjugated.  I am uncomfortable with the objectification of women and the commodification of our bodies that is commonplace and constant.

To me, there was no right or wrong reaction. My introductory quote was one I found humorous but also signified an ingrained socialization of interacting with women. Some spectators immediately turned around and walked out of the gallery, some avoided looking at the stage and very deliberately kept their gaze on the paintings (while the paintings were gazing at the dancers), some fully experienced the multi-media and performance, and some sat on the floor to watch the women convulse on stage.

Since the opening, I’ve been reflecting on the exhibition in relation to intersectional feminism.  The four dancers came from an open call I made in order to limit the amount of personal influence or prejudice I could potentially cast over the “type” of women who participated, I am very interested in why the women who volunteered did so and I will be interviewing them over the coming weeks.

I am fascinated with so many aspects, such as appropriating or using a woman’s body for my own purposes or for the audience. I am struggling to find balance between wanting to speak from my experience, as it will be the most accurate, but not shadowing more important or diverse experiences.

I don’t know what the answers are, but I will be investigating the deeper social implications of intersectionality in my upcoming exhibition Social Studies. In July, I will be facilitating workshops on the 14th, 21st and 28th of July. These workshops will dive into issues of the recently realized feminist man to understanding the diversity of experiences that occur within systems of oppression.

Social Studies asks critical questions about social environments and how these conditions affect our senses of self. Navigating realities often hushed, the Omaha Public Library’s Michael Phipps Gallery will function as a forum and space to ask questions, generate content and create meaning around ideas of systems of marginalization. Making collective, visual languages drawn from discussion based workshops, collaborators will create a public diary of individual experiences. These personal voices disrupt definitions to more fully consider the fluidity of existence.

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