Jamie McCartney’s new exhibition, SKIN DEEP, leads a legion of lady-parts to Mayfair’s Hay Hill Gallery. Launching a bold assault on perfection, the artist presents a one-hundred strong display of plaster cast vaginas and photographs of a nude Jesus. We speak to McCartney ahead of the show to get behind his fascination with the flesh.
Dazed Digital: Does 'The Great Wall of Vagina' highlight how different, or how similar we all are?
Jamie McCartney: Every body and body part is a variation on a theme but there is a disturbing tendency in all societies to champion one look over another. What we find attractive is often driven by fashion as much as our own tastes. I find it sinister that we are unlikely to know which influence is the stronger. The objects of our fantasy and desire are not innate.
They are learned behaviour and as a society, we collude to promote certain attributes over others. This ‘norm’ is promoted as desirable and becomes pervasive, but it's all a big lie. In reference to the vagina wall, many women assume that the neater and smaller their labia the better. Pornography promotes both of those aesthetics. That 'tidy' aesthetic is represented in less than five percent of the casts in the vagina wall. I'm not prepared to accept that 95 of percent of women are therefore defective.
DD: Are you trying to oppose prescribed ideas about beauty?
Jamie McCartney: The show title SKIN DEEP reflects my thoughts about how beauty is defined and expressed in contemporary society. It’s also about the beauty that is created through the artistic process. In the Physical Photography series I've created beautiful images in a non-traditional way. I haven't resorted to airbrushing and distorting the life out of my models until they are nothing more than impossible ideals of beauty.
DD: How does this work sit within the more traditional Cork Street Gallery?
Jamie McCartney: If Cork Street has a reputation for being fairly ‘establishment’ then I think that is undeserved. Many other mavericks have also shown on Cork Street, including the Chapman brothers, so I feel I'm following in the footsteps of some groundbreaking artists. It’s pretty humbling.
DD: What is it about flesh?
Jamie McCartney: Through my portrait sculpture commissions over the last few years, I have come to find working with the body intriguing and exciting. My clients reignited an interest in human form and experience. It's not just about the shapes we make with our bodies but the things we say with them too that are interesting. With the 'Great Wall of Vagina', the visual impact is so powerful and the way one takes it in so instantaneous, that you get a crash course in vulva before you have a chance to think about it.
Skin Deep, Hay Hill Gallery, 5a Cork Street, Mayfair, London W1S 3NJ United Kingdom, until June 2nd, 2012