Better late than never: and while i was planning to write up a couple of quite important fanny experiences earlier this year, it has taken until last week – and a visit to an installation of sculptor Jamie McCartney’s grand oeuvre, the “Great wall of vagina” to get round to it.
Earlier this year, seized with insecurity about the shape angle and general appearance of my new bits, i plunged into a couple of events that forced me to tackle such issues head on. I’m not over them yet. But the experiences helped.
First up was an encounter with rising international artist Jamie McCartney, blue goop and a bucket of plaster.
Showing off the Great Wall of Vagina
But before we get down to that, let’s reprise why Jamie is important and increasingly influential. Last week, andrea and i made our way down to the Skin Deep Exhibition at the Hayhill Gallery in London’s West End. Her somewhat reluctant critic view is over on her blog.
Or if you want the pseud view, Wikipedia does not disappoint:
The Great Wall of Vagina …great socio-political importance …highly provocative response to the exponential rise in cosmetic labial surgeries… confronting the viewer … revealing the diversity of female genital appearance…opposes any notion of a singularly “perfect” aesthetic… forcing society to rethink its relationship with the vulva. Comprising 400 plaster casts of women’s genitals arranged in ten panels…empowerment…liberation…etc., etc.
You get the idea? And yes. It is a magnificent enterprise, overwhelming in its sheer overwhelmingness. I mean most of us might get to look half a dozen fannies in the eye, so to speak, in the course of our lives. But 400 in one go? Nah.
The exhibition was, as one might expect, thronged with good-humoured women eying up the panels, trying to work out if THAT sculpture was of them…and po-faced men in suits, not altogether sure where to look, or whether smiling might be taken the wrong way, presumably buying for international galleries. I liked it. But i think wikipedia has it wrong.
Its all of the above. But much more besides. Because at base, Jamie is a slightly grouchy, interesting, thoughtful, challenging individual – and trying to tie him down to a single narrative is itself the antithesis of what he is about.
Picking out explanations at random from his book, one volunteer for the project spoke at length of how taking part enabled her to reclaim her vagina and challenge patriarchal values. The next said simply that “she enjoyed showing off her bits”. Exactly.
Alongside a few “bits” from the exhibition. My personal favourite, achieved using scanners – not photography – is “Pixie”.
Getting your fanny out with the girls
So much for the big bad world of art. Back now to the personal, as earlier this year, i headed down to Brighton along with about a dozen other women from the Eroticmeet Creative ensemble to get our own bits cast.
It was fun, scary, illuminating, ticklish, you name it. All round, an intensely personal experience – though oddly, the casting itself, done and dusted in the space of a few minutes, was almost a side show to the rest.
We made our way to a pub just up from Brighton’s seafront, there to nurse variously diet cokes, coffees and the occasional basket of chips while waiting to be called into Jamie’s workshop, two at a time, for casting. The process? Knickers off, down on the slab: assume the gynecological pose.
Then its on, in quick succession, with something oil based (to prevent the casting material adhering to any residual hairs – we were asked to shave beforehand – and turning the experience into an impromptu waxing), blue goop (which i think might be called alginate and is used in dental casting), and finally, plaster, cause the goop, even when set, flops around like jelly. Not so much plaster-cast as jello-cast.
Then its a quick wipe, knickers on…and back to the pub. Very strange, given how intimate the process might be considered, how utterly asexual it was.
For a more personal take on this, take a peek at Little Girl Lost’s description of her day out
Sadly not too many pics of my own experience (the camera battery died early in the process).
In the end, too, it was less the doing and casting and all that fuss that made an impact as the chat and the ice broken in the pub before and after. A random selection of women, there for all sorts of reasons, ranging, i have no doubt, around the deeply psychological to the purely fun. Opening up to one another: discussing fears and thoughts and likes and dislikes and…well, just talking very, very intimately for an hour or two.
Then back on the train and back to normality. And that, for me, is what lies at the heart of the Great Wall of Vagina. Its not a single thing…any more than there is some single perfect porn star vagina (no matter how much we are persuaded to believe in such things by literature primarily designed for the male gaze).
Its unique, individual, personal. Its also a source for much humour: a topic and a focus that women everywhere need to be utterly unashamed of raising. We’ve along way to go, yet: but the journey, oddly, begins with a wall.