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Flush art
Photography Flush art

The tension of how women look V how women are expected to

For many, the idea that women fuck, cum, defecate and masturbate is hard to swallow – the Flush art project explores that

Female sexuality has long been a source of existential panic, even in the most liberal of societies. The way we inhabit our body and express our physicality is an issue that has been dictated by a restrictive narrative: one which demands that women be sexually free at the same time as adhering to unattainable norms.

The idea that females – of all ages, races, and sexualities – fuck, cum, defecate and masturbate is hard for many to swallow. The traditionalist male view that “girls don’t poo” is just the tip of the iceberg, in fact perhaps the most depressing onslaught of misplaced disgust at life’s “icky-sticky” comes from within. A repulsion with our own pleasure and flesh is at the core of this cultural discomfort, and we habitually reinforce and re-establish the deep-seated shame placed upon our bodies. Furthermore, images of perfection and photoshopped lies are thrust upon us at every turn, further isolating young girls from themselves and their peers. A wider dialogue about the sometimes gross, but always interesting, realities of being a woman is desperately needed.

This is why Flush art project is such a breath of fresh air against the backdrop of hegemonic conservatism. Australian photographer Prue Stent’s collaboration with fellow creatives Clare Longley and Honey Long for this year’s Sugar Mountain Festival in Melbourne sought to examine the diverse experience of inhabiting a female body. Through the use of hyper-feminine imagery and a pink aesthetic, the artists deconstruct how we are meant to be seen, and how others view us. Rather than marrying sexuality with physicality, Stent, Longley and Long question whether the two should be assimilated, and how women can occupy a space that feels distinctly “other”. Proclaiming that they love “goop” – defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “any thick liquid or sticky substance” – this group has managed to capture the intangibility of subjectivity: a formlessness that constantly reinvents itself.

While they remain hesitant about calling their work explicitly feminist for fear of being “put in a box”, the undercurrent of the collection is an important step towards reclaiming the body under a more progressive paradigm. Here we speak to the dynamic trio about femininity, challenging the male gaze and exploring the potentialities of visceral imagery.

What was your inspiration for Flush? What were you trying to say?

Flush: Our starting point for Flush was to create a new body of work that felt honest for all three of us. Throughout our conversations and concept development, a reoccurring idea was to explore the diverse and sometimes surreal nature of inhabiting a female body. By appropriating hyper-feminine imagery, we wanted viewers to get comfortable in the space and embrace our investigation into the way we are ‘meant’ to be seen, want to be seen, and are seen by both ourselves and others. We focused on internal sensations, drawing from personal experience, to portray an abstract sense of feminine. This may seem fairly rudimentary, but the scale of Sugar Mountain seemed a good opportunity to try to communicate something that needs to be considered by a wider demographic.

“One of our intentions with Flush is to explore the experience of inhabiting a body, which, at least for us, feels distinctly different to depictions we see in popular culture and media of what it is like to be a woman” – Flush art

The images are extremely visceral – what is the relationship between your work and female sexuality/physicality?

Flush: It’s interesting that this question groups female physicality and sexuality together. In many ways, it is appropriate, for many human beings, but of course not all, our sexuality is inherently ingrained in our physicality. However, one of our intentions with Flush is to explore the experience of inhabiting a body, which, at least for us, feels distinctly different to depictions we see in popular culture and media of what it is like to be a woman.

We also love goop! Embodied within it are formlessness and the dissolution of boundaries. It has strong associations with what has been seen as the undesirable sense of female sexuality and physicality – but it is potent, fertile, powerful and needs to be celebrated.

Why have you chosen to focus on the colour pink? Is it a reclamation of a colour that is “girlie”?

Flush: One of the reasons for using the colour pink is that it is a natural fit when exploring the body on a visceral and raw level. Cliché as it sounds, we are all shades of pink on the inside, and so it seems appropriate given the subject matter. It is not so much the reclamation of a colour that is “girlie” – that seems less interesting. We are exposed to that every time we enter a female toilet or buy tampons and it does undeniably have cultural associations that speak to a restrictive idea of femininity, but we wanted to utilise that also. Aside from this we wanted to create an immersive installation for Sugar Mountain that was inviting, surreal and had an impact. Due to pinks connection with the colour red, therefore blood and life force, it is very potent and powerful.

In what ways do you use the body as a canvas to explore wider contexts and ideas?

Flush: There is so much that is hidden and mysterious about the body. Being able to engage with our bodies through art making for us is a way of exploring its different potentialities and uncovering subconscious processes. On a wider scale, it’s about challenging fixed representations of bodies and their objectification by coming from a place that is rooted in personal investigation and experience.

Would you call your work feminist? Would you classify yourselves as feminist artists?

Flush: Yes. There is an inextricable conversation between our personal beliefs and the political or social ideas that our work communicates. It comes from a place of personal experience and feeling that these experiences are important enough to share with other people and talk about. There is a slight hesitation when saying that our work is feminist due to fear of being put in a box and not let out, there are multiple readings to any interesting work. But yes, we are feminists and our work is feminist too.

“We want our work to challenge this by presenting a dichotomy between seduction and repulsion that aims to blur fixed and external representations of the female body” – Flush art

What were the reasons for collaborating?

Flush: We are really close friends and have a lot of fun working together. In many ways, it was just an extension (of the) ongoing collaborative work we do together for fun. Having a budget allowed us to put some big ideas we have often talked about out there into the world. Having many shared interests and ideas it was an obvious decision to collaborate on this project together.

Are you interested in disturbing stereotypes of females and their bodies?

Flush: Many representations we see of women’s bodies in the media are alienating and heavily clouded by the male gaze. We want our work to challenge this by presenting a dichotomy between seduction and repulsion that aims to blur fixed and external representations of the female body.