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Male Objectification

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George Hajian's Silver, Tinted, Pink at Ramp George Hajian's Silver, Tinted, Pink at Ramp George Hajian's Silver, Tinted, Pink at Ramp George Hajian's Silver, Tinted, Pink at Ramp George Hajian's Silver, Tinted, Pink at Ramp George Hajian's Silver, Tinted, Pink at Ramp

For Hajian there's an athletic construct embodied what he describes as the “spornosexual”, a neologism coined by Mark Simpson in 2004 to delineate a certain type of new male who projects a fusion of sport, porn and the metrosexual, a media narcissist with muscles in all the right places. This in turn becomes the benchmark, a marketed fetish against which all shall be judged, saturating the social media, internet and dating/social apps, the upshot of which is the male body, according to Hajian, becoming “objectified, sexualized and commodified”.

Hamilton

 

George Hajian
Silver Tinted Pink

 

24 March - 12 April 2016

Issues of gender have typically been canvased by feminist artists for many decades and for obvious reasons - from Sarah Lucas to Cindy Sherman, from Barbara Kruger to Fiona Pardington et al. By contrast their male counterparts are a little thin on the ground. Robert Mapplethorpe and Delmas Howe are representative voices of some which have explored questions to do with a male agenda, particularly the homosexual demographic.

Add now to that list New Zealand artist, George Hajian. His current show at Ramp, called Silver Tinted Pink, explores - via the anatomically perfect Ken Doll (as in Barbie and Ken) plus video, collage and rolled screenprint - matters to do with male imagery which seem to echo some of the same problematic areas women have raised to do with objectification many years back.

When New Zealand middle distant champion, Nick Willis, recently outed himself on Twitter as a porn addict, my immediate reaction was - too much information! This revelation and its delivery seemed like a brazen form of self-promotion, a bizarre adolescent “look-at-me” plea, parading ones peccadilloes in public for an audience hungry for titillating voyeuristic experience. This is the reverse of the Catholic confessional, mumbling in a small curtained off cubical, whispering through a darkened gridded window, “Father forgive me for I have sinned.”

Obviously I have been living a sheltered life because according to Hajian: “The blogosphere is full of half-naked sportsmen and many more fully naked athletic bodies, flexing their muscles, showing off, masturbating for the camera, exhibiting, snapchatting, Instagramming and tweeting with photographic fake filters in an effort to stand-out.”

Phew!

Women once complained about the distortion of body image inherent in things like Barbie Doll. This exhibition attempts to do the same for men - via treatment applied to her strapping ab-ripped partner, Ken.

Armenian artist, George Hajian, living in New Zealand since 2001 and studying for his doctorate at Elam, explains how he recently came across a 1988 version of the doll, declaring that he was “immediately drawn to the perfect abdominals, the defined muscular arms, the nylon blond hair and blue eyes.”

For the artist this athletic construct is embodied in what he describes as the “spornosexual”, a neologism coined by Mark Simpson in 2004 to delineate a certain type of new male who projects a fusion of sport, porn and the metrosexual (think perhaps David Beckham), a media narcissist with muscles in all the right places. This in turn becomes the benchmark, a marketed fetish against which all shall be judged, saturating the social media, internet and dating/social apps, the upshot of which is the male body, according to Hajian, becoming “objectified, sexualized and commodified”.

The far end of this cultural shift is encapsulated by the artist in a clever little line - “The nude selfie has become our mating call.”

His focus in the exhibition is thus the social construction of the modern male, caught up inside an artificial drama in which role playing and remodeling becomes a frenetic and volatile game, one in which images are consumed and then turn on their consumers with a voracious appetite. The end product of such social cannibalism, Hajian claims, is the pornografication of society, a kind of self-objectification of our own lives. “We are craving to be the object … the porn star.”

The artist approaches the problem, as he sees it, in essence by magnifying it, by literalizing and ratcheting up the hyperbole. Here is a link to Hajian talking about his show.

In the work Silver Tinted Pink (video) he presents, in close-up, the naked head and torso of Ken, or sometimes the thighs and legs of the doll, covered in a thick dripping ooze of a pink and silver viscous liquid, code (somewhat blatantly) for sperm, which is accompanied by four separate audio tracks to be listened to via headphones.

One of them is a soundscape by Robert Carter called Drip Drop, a musical version of the title. A second is an adaptation from Heatstroke (1982) a hard-core porn movie. The third is a melancholy piano piece composed and rearranged by Alex Taylor, while the last audio track is a highly sexualized poem set in some kind of urban Eliot Waste Land, by Joel Fares. Called Apricot Green, it matches the ooze dripping down the body of Ken to the aching strains of a single violin, the text of which balances precariously somewhere between revulsion and indulgent embrace.

Such ambivalence is also captured in the collages: images of old film-stars and the like - ripped out of fan magazines or porno mags from the past - and spray-painted with drip-runs that cascade down the body and over an erect penis, as in the work, Testing the flow. Others have their heads obliterated or swapped with an animal, usually a cat, while some are curtained off with a venetian blind effect using layered strips of thin paper.

That grid-like structure, a voyeuristic ploy, is treated again in Hajian’s rolling screenprints where 62 enlarged and separate print images of the Ken Doll are roll-folded (as if a concertina) to create a panoramic blurred vision of the figure’s head and shoulders.

This same repetitive slatted device is worked for its own sake in a piece entitled Roll, Swipe, Slide. On a first viewing of this kinetic art, one is reminded of the disorienting stripe patterns of Bridget Riley. On rolls of clear plastic, gridded lines of different colours are sent through a roll machine that creates moving visual Op Art effects. Seductive and dazzling, they drawn the viewer in until looking becomes a dizzying kaleidoscopic encounter.

At a certain point in this show, grumblings about objectification almost get lost in the seductive glut of ooze, hard thrusting hammering cocks and the erotic glamour of dribbled paint. The artist, like Queen Gertrude, seems to be protesting too much. Warhol would have been delighted.

Peter Dornauf

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