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Wide Open Beavers Inside by Tsering Frykman-Glen and Andrew Peel - February/March 2005, Phatspace Gallery, Sydney, Australia
Reviews

From: Christine Bradburn
Category: Art
Date: 08 April 2005

Review

Denied Provocation

Wide Open Beavers Inside - the perpetual lure, a promise of fleshy, gratifying spread-legged exposure. Of female genitalia stretched-wide, pink and visceral, set against smooth, shimmering inner thigh skin. And yet, in Tsering Frykman-Glen and Andrew Peelís exhibition, this drawcard fails to deliver.

On entering Wide Open Beavers Inside it becomes apparent that the seduction and interest of Frykman-Glen and Peelís current practice lies not in pornographic display, but in the effects of its postponement. The title piece of the exhibition offers a stylised depiction of genitalia, penetration and oral sex. Using the tools of pornography, in particular close-ups and cropping, a single image of debauchery, drawn in black marker pen on canvas, is fragmented into twelve and then offered as a collection of body parts to the spectatorís gaze. The bodily release expected of a pornographic exchange is never actualised. Here the full sexual display is denied as outlines await their filling-in via a painting-by-numbers strategy. The audience themselves must create the visceral, pink provocation of sexual representation by putting on different coloured lipsticks and kissing the various body parts according to a prescribed code for image making.

The denial of the promise for unmitigated sexual gratification carries over into the exhibitionís sound piece No Trespassing: this means you. A telephone surrounded by real life phone-sex ads, anticipates the instant sexual relief at the end of the line. However this relief is thwarted: the call is placed on hold. Frykman-Glen and Peel casted their friends (amateurs) to create characters advertising fictional sex lines, and it is amusingly-pathetic how easily these women fall into culturally rehearsed porn-star roles. Their improvised lines render the wraparound pornographic tapestry of todayís lascivious commercial culture.

The recorded message at the end of the phone-line, along with the comic-like line of Wide Open Beavers Insideís orgy scene, parody the standardised sex of a culture saturated with images of it. The way in which the artists deny the pornographic consummation exposes and troubles our own sexual politics and habitual ways of seeing sex and sexuality. Their fragmentation and displacement of pornography and its techniques challenge our value judgements and mobilise subtexts that have become ingrained in regards to sexuality and taboo.

In the fragmentary kiss-by-code image, Wide Open Beavers Inside, Frykman-Glen and Peel further reveal that it is through a commodified version of sex that society understands and constructs sexuality per se. This work co-opts the generic nature of paint-by-numbers landscapes and vistas, to make visible the standardised images of sex and sexuality that pornography propagates in spite of the inherent complexities of our identities and orientations. Although Wide Open Beavers Inside is an image all about crossing sexual boundaries and giving up inhibitions, its execution is by contrast exceedingly constrained. Precise black outlines fix the group-sex scene in a rigid and controlled manner. The tension between the image and its confinement highlights the problem surrounding the drive to allow explicit representation of sexual permissiveness. By the desire to display sexual liberation without reservation we fall into a trap of this being our new conscripted role. The audience themselves are constricted in their playing, instructed to kiss between the lines. By participating they are implicated in the process of setting up and sustaining the hold of a media-fraught sexuality.

It is the framing of sexual content in the guise of childhood games and toys that complicates the works in Wide Open Beavers Inside and makes them all the more disconcerting. The artists prompt the audience to behave with a child-like playfulness, providing them with lipsticks to play dress-ups; a phone conjuring up the mischievousness of prank calls, with their pretence and fake accents; and in the third piece of the exhibition, I see England, I see France, the audience is given a bright red Viewmaster toy to watch a 3D slide show. In this slide show, a group of adults play dress-ups in front of the exhibitionís central mise en scene. In various states of undress and overdress the adults entangle themselves in toilet paper, performing for each other and for the camera. Their excessive make-up and bizarre outfits recall childrenís games of fantasy. Yet the fantasy here is laden with adult themes. Whilst none of the figures in these tableaux directly engage with the image behind them of penetrating cocks and wide open beavers, their poses and entanglements reiterate its composition. The pervasiveness of sexual imagery, having gained our passive acceptance, desensitises, obscuring its penetration into childrenís playtime and our readings of it.

In Wide Open Beavers Inside Frykman-Glen and Peel place their audience in a situation where they can be nothing other than voyeurs and participants. Their work reveals how slippery the divide between passive onlooker and active participant can become. Cues are unconsciously followed: the canvas kissed, the phone receiver held to the ear, the Viewmaster looked through. Without thinking we enter into an interactive engagement with explicit forms of sexual representation. It is only then when we are forced to take an active role that these representations stop streaming past us and make a real impact on our consciousness.

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