“Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.” So begins Valerie Solanas’s incendiary, prophetic SCUM Manifesto, SCUM of course standing for the Society for Cutting Up Men. Artist Justine Kurland channels Solanas’s righteous rage into her ongoing project, SCUMB Manifesto, or the Society for Cutting Up Men’s Books, where she takes an X-Acto knife to the male canon.
The latest iteration of Kurland’s project is on view at Watershed Art & Ecology, in the form of gorgeously composed large-scale collages. Kurland began the project by first cutting up her own photography books by white men. Now friends have purged such books from their own collections, allowing many of the mesmerizing works on view to have been culled from the same titles.
Kurland channels radical feminine energy not just in the physical making of these works, but also in their compositions, where organic, circular shapes reign. Luxury, made up of images of disassembled body parts, hair, red cocktails, and pink fabric, is composed in the shape of a vulva. The black-and-white Nudes (Bad Mommy) resembles two differently sized breasts. From afar, they look like tissue-paper flowers, but up close they are a mass of body parts. From one of the nipples dangles a string of X-Acto blades, from the other a blade protrudes out, as if daring one to cop a feel. Even in the circular-framed The Mind and the Hand (Circle Jerk), which showcases old men’s faces arranged in phallic shapes, the penises are foolishly dancing in a circle. Nudes (Target) is one of the most striking pieces here, the cut-up black-and-white images overlapping one another in subtle gradations, like the petals of a flower.
Much of the images Kurland collages seem to be female in nature: there is no shortage of long hair, bare breasts and torsos, smooth legs. In addition to renouncing the white male art canon, the artist is also in a sense reclaiming these likenesses of women. She’s taking back the objectification of the female form, the male gaze, the woman as ever-surveyed, as John Berger posited. “There are certain themes that keep reemerging in my work,” Kurland said in an interview, among them “what it is to forge some space that you can occupy.” With SCUMB Manifesto, Kurland is indeed forging a space of her own—though it’s not necessarily a safe space, you never know where a knife may be hidden.
Through 10/21: Sat 2-7 PM and by appointment, Watershed Art & Ecology, 1821 S. Racine, watershed-art.org, email@example.com
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