Put away your notepad and pencil, you will not be picking up tips on how to get a girl into bed. Don’t be disappointed because I will be exploring another phenomenon that is just as stimulating. Why are contemporary artists fascinated with capturing images of girls in bed? Let me titillate your imagination further and present the idea of three female contemporary artists photographing their bodies in bed. I am prepared to show you this reality, but it may not be what you expect. Art critics have suggested all three artists desire a shift in how woman are portrayed, but only you can decide if this mission was accomplished or a disaster.
All art occurring after World War II is considered contemporary or post-modern art. New York was shifting as the new art center of the world and designs are more socially mindful than any previous era. “Contemporary art can sometimes seem at odds with a public that does not feel that art and its institutions share its values” (1). In painting, conventional techniques are used along with geometric shapes and hard-edges. Architects eliminate historical reference and created minimalist structures that were functional. Sculptors could create art out of everyday materials and skill was optional. During this period, artists had unlimited freedom to create outside of the box and were no longer tethered to tradition.
Mariko Mori, Love Hotel, 1994
Influenced as a fashion model and student at Bunka Fashion College and Chelsea College of Art and Design, Mariko Mori is a Japanese photographic and video artist. Layering the placement of two abstract concepts near one other, is commonplace in her design work. Mori frequently models for her own art, “I was trying to criticise consumerism through my work, so that’s how I started to use my own body” (2). In Love Hotel, Mori is dressed as Tetsuwan Atomu (or Astro Boy) the main animated character in a Japanese television series designed for elementary boys. Disguised under a school girl uniform, she possesses silver ears, hair, hands and feet like this animated character. I am not a big fan of abstract conceptualization, but I do like the unpredictability of this piece. Mori is unyielding to the pink round bed and appears to have zero intention of seducing her viewers. I am not sure of her motives, but the random elements demand my attention.
Cindy Sherman is an American film director and photographer and, “has sought to raise challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art” (3). Her interest in visual arts began at Buffalo State College where she was educated in painting and photography. Sherman likes to work alone and assumes all roles in her art from director to model. She uses elaborate make-up and costumes to create a character and then poses them against meager backdrops. Using Untitled in the name of her images allows the viewer to explore multiple interpretations behind her work.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #93, 1983
(The Black Sheets)
Sherman describes, “In one of the centerfold pictures, which I call The Black Sheets for obvious reasons, I think of that character as having just woken up from a night on the town. She’s just gone to bed and the sun is waking her up and she’s got the worst hangover, and she’s about to pull the sheets over her head. Other people look at that and think she’s a rape victim” (4). The disheveled blond hair lying on the black sheets hints to me that this is the making of a centerfold in a provocative magazine. I think this image is effortless and has a tantalizing quality that may vary at any moment, which gains my enthusiasm for the piece.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #33, 1979
In Untitled Film Still #33, Sherman designed this image to look like a 1940 classical Hollywood crime drama emphasizing cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. This image was taken at her boyfriend’s family beach house on Long Island, New York. I like this black and white image because it feels like the viewer has infiltrated a situation already in motion. There is a pause to the room and awkwardness to this woman. Why is her attention trapped off-screen? Like classic crime drama, this image is a cliffhanger and reveals no clues to my multitude of questions. This piece is one of sixty-nine images in the series.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #11, 1997
In Untitled Film Still #11, Sherman offers another image reminiscent of film from the 1940 period. Hoping to portray an ordinary life in a realist plot, Sherman shot this image in her apartment and borrowed a friends doggy pillow, which is lying at the head of the bed. I think the décor of the bedroom and the woman’s clothing capture this era perfectly, but a despondent woman, was not achieved. Despite the tissues in her hand and the void look on her face, I still am not convinced. This staged image is unsatisfying and sterile and unfortunately doesn’t tickle my imagination.
Moving freely from art, film, photography, painting and writing is American artist Eleanor Antin. She designs art in which the concept involved takes precedence over traditional subject matter. Antin explains, “Conceptual art was opening up the possibility to cross mediums, cross genres, cross boundaries all over the place, to do something intelligent and fun, amusing, startling” (6). Creating interesting narrative and then transforming those details into art is the core to her creations.
Eleanor Antin, The Ballerina and the Poet, 1986
In this piece, Antin has created a fictional oddity named Eleanora Antinova, whose identity is a combination of historical fact and imagination. The character described by Antin, “…is a conflicted, African American ballerina who performed with the prestigious Russian Ballet Russe troupe in the 1920s. Eventually she fell from stardom during the Great Depression and supported herself as an actress in American soft porn films. The contradictions within this character are multi-faceted in that she is an African American modernist living before the civil rights movement and does not have the body of a conventional ballerina…” (5). I admire the complex detail behind this image, but I see a scene from a live stage play. Every prop, character and body position looks choreographed and artificial, which I don’t find glamorous. I have an appetite for some erratic behavior by the ballerina; has she considered quenching her thirst with the beer on the floor?
Eleanor Antin, RN, 1976
“Playing with clichéd feminine personae, Eleanor Antin in The Adventures of a Nurse manipulates cut-out paper dolls to tell the story of innocent Nurse Eleanor who meets one gorgeous, intriguing, and available man after another” (7). Antin is the star and creator of this video and the image of the nurse on the bed is promotion. The adventure proposed and devilish expression by nurse has me hooked and excited; the actual video is archaic and I have mental health concerns for the nurse. I like the bizarre and simple elements of the image. A nurse, bed and paper dolls is a group of words that I may never hear together again, and this alone, astounds me. See a short clip of this video by clicking the address: http://www.vdb.org/titles/adventures-nurse