Art Insure

cape reviews

Questioning Goodman's Jewels on the Crotch: A Review of Cars And Girls

Frances Goodman at Whatiftheworld / Gallery

By Anna Stielau
31 January - 09 March. 0 Comment(s)
Wedding Fare (Detail)

Frances Goodman
Wedding Fare (Detail), 2012. Photo 630 x 800mm.

    Over the last ten years, Vajazzling - the fine art of bejewelling a woman’s pubic region with rhinestone crystals – has, after a slow start in the soft porn industry, gained an increasing momentum as a beauty procedure. In early 2010, Jennifer Love Hewitt gave the trend a public face when she announced on late night television that she had transformed her vagina - or, as she so artfully put it, her ‘precious lady’ - into a Swarovski-covered ‘pink disco ball’. Dubious euphemism aside, Hewitt’s nether regions are apparently famous enough to attract an inordinate amount of attention.So much so that while South Africa was buried up to its ears in World Cup hype, the USA was wading through the sparkly and labyrinthine shallows of Vagina-gate.  Public opinion was divided: one group of Hewitt fans saw the celebrity’s confession as the act of a confident woman reclaiming her body after a painful break-up. Hewitt’s detractors - among whom, I assume, are those who neither know nor care about the minutiae of Hewitt’s love life - argued that crotch crystals contribute nothing to feminist dialogue and indeed, are just the latest manifestation of societal objectifying of the female body. 

art events calendar

VIEW FULL CALENDAR

buy art prints

Portfolios Portfolio Four

edition of 10: R20,000.00

About Editions for ArtThrob

Outstanding prints by top South African artists. Your chance to purchase SA art at affordable prices.

FIND OUT MORE Editions for artthrob
Hello Kitty

Frances Goodman
Hello Kitty
2012
Photo
1200 x 970mm

SEE REVIEW

Francis Goodman’s 'Cars and Girls' at WhatiftheWorld celebrates the vajazzle in all its glittering glory, but, perhaps, falls short of an engagement with the inherent politics of the trend. Admittedly I had high hopes for the show. I’m a fan of both cars and girls so I was sold at the title, and in fact a first viewing lived up to my expectations. Goodman’s Vajazzling Series dominates the show, taking this niche kink to glorious new heights in her ongoing iterations of the practice. This is no pink disco ball on Jennifer Love Hewitt B-list bits. Each work in the series is an exquisitely detailed close crop of a woman’s torso, thighs and crotch, onto which Goodman has laboriously glued a personalised rhinestone design ranging from the cute in Hello Kitty (2012), through the decorative in Paisley (2012), to the mildly distressing in Wedding Fare (2012). The larger-than-life vaginas themselves are pretty damn impressive and the glossy Diasec prints serve to lend them an additional polished je ne sais quois.

After I’d shaken the sparkle from my eyes, however, I was left at a loss as to the point. According to vajazzling.com, “the idea of having Swarovski crystals on your vajayjay is the sexiest thing out there” not because of what it adds to sex but because of the intimate portrait of individuality it conveys. Let’s ignore the excruciating infantilisation of the Oprah-coined ‘vajayjay’ for now. Apparently, as the site goes on to point out, “Vajazzling is...a lot of fun if you wish to put forward a message – especially if it’s a sexy one! Some like having the initials “USA” on their smooth vulva regions, while others like to have a statement such as... “juicy”, “sexy”, “Miss Devil” and “horny”... awesome enough to make people drool over you!”  Its true, I can imagine nothing more erotic then unzipping a girl’s pants only to discover the word ‘horny’ twinkling back at me. Boy oh boy.

Hope the Pussy was Worth it

Frances Goodman
Hope the Pussy was Worth it

Mixed Media

SEE REVIEW

But beyond a considered approach to technique, are Goodman’s images offering anything more to the vajazzling canon than, say, the standard ‘Miss Devil’ or paired cherry designs? Do they really warrant her claim to feminist sensibilities if her Vajazzling Series represents, as the press release for 'Cars and Girls' would have it, “a response to the commodification of the female body and its use in the media”? Yes, on a superficial level there is something pleasing about the unapologetic pose her subjects adopt for the camera. It’s a rare thing to see real women, ingrown hair and stretch marks included, bare it all. However, Goodman’s appropriation of a technique intended to increase female desirability complicates a feminist reading.

Femininity is by definition performative, while masculinity is so often characterised by the inverse: a lack of effort and maintenance. Shaving one’s legs is feminine; not doing so is considered masculine (Argus Cycle Tour aside). Women paint their faces; men (for the most part) do not.  Bleaching, waxing or plucking rogue body hair is a feminine game, but accumulating a day’s worth of stubble is the pinnacle of masculinity. As such, vajazzling is the purest distilled essence of the performed feminine. It requires pain, labour, expense and constant maintenance, and its aesthetic function is surpassed only by its sexual connotations. The fad’s origins in the porn industry further problematise it.  As Ariel Levy points out in Female Chauvinist Pigs, “How is imitating a stripper or porn star - a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place - going to render us [women as consumers] sexually liberated?”

He Fucked Like He Drove

Frances Goodman
He Fucked Like He Drove
2013
Mixed Media

SEE REVIEW

Goodman’s challenge was to negotiate this laden terrain by reimagining vajazzling as a performance of subjecthood in bodies so often mediated by the media. I remain unconvinced by the outcome. Her position in the work is ambivalent: is she poking fun at the process or reclaiming it? If the former, why labour over the intricate designs sincerely requested by her volunteers? And if the latter, why vajazzling? At no point does the artist hint at why this particular spa-treatment represents a meaningful metonym for female body image.

A more successful metonym, perhaps, is the car of 'Cars and Girls'. Goodman’s Revenge Series sees the car become a stand-in for the male body; a kind of implied phallus. In He fucked Like He Drove (2013), chains are fixed to a used red leather car-seat to form the text of the title and in Easy Come, Easy Go (2013) diamante and faux pearl earrings replace the chains on a found car seat. The car as a metaphor for sexuality is not a new idea - we’ve all heard the big car equals small dick jokes, or recognise ‘parking’ as slang for teenage sexual exploits - but Goodman’s take on an old theme is fun all the same. The frayed leather parts are beautiful objects in themselves and her bejewelled text is executed with aplomb. Perhaps the inferred female hysteria of phrases like ‘Hope the pussy was worth it’ emblazoned on the works reduces gender construction in 'Cars and Girls' to the realm of cliché, but it seems an appropriate language for Goodman’s world of crystals and leather and neon.

I’m on the fence with 'Cars and Girls'. The works have flair but lack substance, and a more involved interrogation of body politics might have added gravitas to the show. Still, maybe I’m just taking the whole thing too seriously. This is, after all, a show primarily about bejewelling car parts and private parts.