Harley Weir – [←] Agata for Baron Magazine (2014); [→] Greta Varlese for Self Service (2015)
I was not especially fond of Weir’s work, initially–it came across as frivolous, trite even.
Over the last year, my thinking on the matter has shifted; the mechanism of that shift was not solely motivated by the maturing of the work so much as the way that Weir has slowly but steadily improved by increment.
That’s an unusual progression to witness. Usually, you have someone who is making good work who disappears for a bit and then explodes back onto the scene with some skull cleaving next level shit. (Case in point: Jacs Fishburne, who has going from demonstrating obvious talent two years ago to sharing some fucking profoundly inspired and technically accomplished work.)
The sort of quantum leap tends to be the exception and not the rule. So it’s refreshing to see an artist to present such a public face to the false starts and failures that are informing behind the scenes growth in perspective and conceptual acuity.
It’s interesting to me that the now seemingly defunct Baron Magazine’s stated goal was something along the lines of exploring the space between pornography and art.
Overlooking the fact that there isn’t a proverbial no man’s land separating art from pornography, so much as a venn diagram overlapping, It’s interesting to see the image of Agata in that context. Why? Well, although she is nude, she is turned away from the camera (ostensibly also from the viewer). She’s undressing but in a way that is both sexy and awkward–she seems restrained by her clothing, in a way. There’s also the lurid 70s porn palate, super saturated red, pale rose and washed out blues. The phone on the wall, although distracting is a really nice touch that ends up selling the image.
In the second image, things on the surface appear simpler: a model in a fashionable sweater and tartan print skirt. The ¾ profile of the first image is shifted to 7/8 back to camera. The frame lines are tighter–below the eyes and mid-thigh. It’s obvious that Greta is positioned in front of one of those slightly marbled photo paper backdrops. The clumsily presented clothing as physical restriction theme is revisited… only this time the clothing is presented as something almost interchangeable with high end bondage gear. The positioning of her hands hikes up her skirt revealing a centimeter less of the cleft between her legs than would be pornographic.
With so many young women making work on the fringes of fashion and erotica, there’s a lot of talk about developing a female gaze to counter Berger’s art historical male gaze. I’m highly critical of this trend–mainly because the people who are most emphatic about claiming it really do very little in their work to justify their claims. But I think the key difference between the above images is the former is made–probably unintentionally–to cater to the male gaze. The latter won’t necessarily fail to appeal to the male gaze so much as to see it as erotic (and I would argue it’s actually far more erotic in concept and execution than the former is) requires a certain acculturation in an experience of visual culture that is decidedly feminine.