Exhibition | Tits in Space

Sarah Lucas, Whitworth Art Gallery | Saturday 14 February – Sunday 19 July 2015

From the Young British Artist who brought us ‘Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab’ in the early 90s (literally two eggs and a kebab laid out on a wooden table) I give you… ‘Tits in Space’.

Or more specifically, a photograph of two balls made out of cigarettes, printed repeatedly to form a wallpaper and plastered across a large exhibition room. The visual metaphor is obvious by the title, and sets the tone for the rest of the items displayed alongside it; stuffed tights laid out like plasticine dolls, a garden gnome also covered in cigarettes, and a large phallus. It sets a perimeter to the space; in here, mundane items become anthropomorphic, funny, surreal and sexual.

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In the early years of her career, Lucus made a name for herself alongside artists such as Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin and the Chapman brothers thanks to their rebellious outlook, a rejection of anything that could be considered ‘high-brow’, and some pretty extreme partying habits. With pickled sharks, unmade beds and shop mannequins, they were the epitome of anti-establishment, taking everything the art elite held dear, screwing it up, doing a poo on it and putting it in a gallery just for a laugh.

Accept now, 25 years on, the Young British Artists are not so young anymore. In fact they’re in their 50s, and despite their protestations are now about as establishment as you can get. So much so that Lucas is representing the UK at the Venice Biennial later this year.

The exhibition in the recently reopened Whitworth Art Gallery drives this point home. In a gallery renowned for its textiles and wallpaper collection, as tongue-in-cheek as it is ‘Tits in Space’ plays homage to the heritage around it and nods to an artistic precedent. As you view the other exhibits, the wallpaper blurs into a patterned background. Faced with the baggy beige tights and garden gnome sculpture, you feel like you just wandered into your mad Granny’s bedroom. Perhaps that’s just me; if you’d met my Gran you’d understand…

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For the last 20 years Lucas has created pieces made from items of furniture, posed to be suggestive of a human form. Both in male and female figures, Lucas reduces the body to its most basic, and most sexual, parts, and doesn’t shy away from making some uncomfortable comparisons. I mean, she once used a kebab to suggest lady parts, and I really don’t need to go into unpacking that metaphor.

At the Whitworth exhibition, Lucas delivers more of the same. The stuffed tights are indicative of female bodies, nude, draped over chairs. Set next to army gear or atop stacks of tinned ham, Lucas’ women are not empowered, proudly inflagrante and posed confidently for their lover. Instead, the bodies are there to be attacked, or devoured. This is brought home by one sculpture, where a male figure is indicated in a large, rather crumpled, cigarette-covered penis. Set in the middle of a pair of tight-legs, limp and spread, the female form could not be more passive.

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These themes are interesting, but for Lucas are certainly not new. Like with the wallpaper, the sculptures echo an earlier heritage and show the cyclical nature of art, but in Lucas’ case she is mainly self-referential. Whether that’s egotistical, lazy or the last vestige of anti-establishmentism left, it’s something that can be seen in a lot of the YBAs’ work in the past few years.

As for the cigarette-covered gnome, frankly, I don’t have a clue. Perhaps it is a reference to Lucas’ secret pyromania, specifically aimed at garden ornaments. Perhaps she’s trying to kick the habit. Either way, it’s reassuring to know that even a YBA still has the capacity to be unfathomable…

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Susan Lucas | tylergrahamualfad

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