Monday, 25 September 2017

Juliet Fleming exhibits at The House of Blah Blah

It all began with an article. An article targeted at Juliet; one of those that pop up on the screen as recommended reading in response to browsing history. The article in question, 'How a 3D clitoris will help teach French schoolchildren about sex', prompted Juliet to investigate this part of the female anatomy that she, and it turns out, many others, were relatively uninformed about. Why is it that we are so familiar with depictions of male genitalia in all its states but so ill-informed of the clitoris? 

Juliet Fleming has set out to address this in her current exhibition, Something Coquettish at The House of Blah Blah in Middlesbrough. But please do not panic; this is not a sex education class, it is an investigation into female sexuality, domesticity and pleasure. 

Just as Fleming acknowledges that these topics have historically been ignored, she merges traditional techniques such as sewing with modern technologies such as digital printing.

On entering the gallery (a large, multifunctional and fairly nondescript space with exception to the tiled floor showing evidence of previous artistic intervention) the viewer gets a general overview of the entire show.

A couple of metal frames that were originally intended to be used as structures for temporary studio walls have been reappropriated and now function as reclining supports over which digitally printed wallpaper is draped. 

A third metal structure stands tall acting as a support over which another sheet of clitoris-decorated wallpaper is hung.

Towards the back of the gallery the viewer can see hand crafted ceramic vessels and dishes displayed on the wall and arranged on shelves rather like one may find in the home of someone from the elder generations. One of the recurring motifs in the exhibition is painted in gold directly onto the corner walls at the back.

Numerous unique objects described as plush toys, are scattered over the gallery floor.

At this stage I must reassure you that this is not a gallery in disguise as some form of sex shop, or erotic boudoir.

I want to address the 'plush toys'. Rather than viewing these items as toys, objects giving one pleasure from the act of playing with them, I regard them as soft furnishings. In this case they are clitoris-shaped stuffed cushions that are made from fabric that has been adorned with clitoris designs. 

Throughout the exhibition there are two clitoris icons that reappear. Fleming explained to me that one of these is the anatomical depiction of a clitoris, and the other is a shape that she has adapted as she worked with the previous image.

Using modern image transferring processes, the aforementioned icons have been applied to the surface of the ceramic objects and feature on the patterned paper and the cushions. It is the clay sculptures that I remember from Juliet's previous work when she was based at Newcastle University. Not surprisingly given the problems of making work of this kind; dependent on the use of a kiln, requiring large amounts of space to make and then store, she has adapted her practice so as to concentrate on smaller ceramic items that have a more direct relationship to the home.

When talking to Juliet about the exhibition, I was struck by all the things that she wants to address within the work. It could be quite easy for the exhibition to have felt weighed down by all these issues, but this is not the case. Suggestions are made and references alluded to, providing a starting point for discussion.

What better opportunity for this than by attending the following event on Thursday evening:

Something Coquettish: Closing Party & A Clitoral Conversation

Thursday 28th September 2017
6 - 9pm

Event description

6 - 7 pm Open discussion held in Something Coquettish Exhibition looking into themes of feminism, the digital age, sexual autonomy, gender and stereotyping.

7 - 9 pm Closing Party for Something Coquettish

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