Solo Exhibition New York

 

 

Post-Feminist Phallic Provocateur Sylvia Hennequin Lets it All Hang Out at Monkdogz Urban Art

 

The juncture at which painting and photography meet - or in some cases, collide - would appear to be one of the more fertile art avenues in an era dominated by mixed media. And one of its most intrepid explorers is the Netherlands artist Sylvia Hennequin, who takes the hybrid form a giant step further by using herself as a model for statements that far surpass the autophotography of better known postmodernists, such as Cindy Sherman, for their sheer shock value.
In “Deity Eve”, Hennequin presents herself as a kind of Lady Libertine, wearing a crown of cocks. From under her tiara of phalli-some fully erect, others somewhat aflop - the artist greets her public with a frank, full frontal gaze, as she clutches her bare breasts so forcefully that her chest is torn asunder, revealing her naked heart. That heart, one suspects, may have been many times broken. But “Eve’s” expression (more of a smirk than a Mona Lisa smile) as she flaunts, her trophies like Medusa’s mane of serpents, suggests that revenge is, at very least, bittersweet.

In past series, one of Hennequin’s most mind-boggling productions was a work called “Dickhead”, playing off of a common street epithet, in which a plethora of various-sized peckers made up a monumental head in the manner of the 14th century Milanese painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s protosurrealist human portraits composed of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. In keeping with her stated goal of “balancing male and female energies”, Hennequin also created a vaginal counterpoint to “Dickhead” called “Mmm...” - a veritable gynecologist’s flower garden of labia majora, labia minora, and clitoral imagery, which served equally well to draw attention to her boldly sexualized vision of humanity.

In her new exhibition “Darwinian Dreams” at Monkdogz Urban Art, 547 West 27th Street, from november 13 through December 13, Hennequin features a series called “Eve’s Legacy”. Her goal in these works is to create embodiments of what she refers to as “authentic female power”. One of the signature works in the series is “Silver Wolf”, in which a large howling canine head is grafted onto the photographic image of a voluptuous nude artist with a holstered six-gun strapped to on her thigh like a punk rock Calamity Jane.
In “Snaked Risen Creature” another major work from the series, which is in the exhibition, the artist presents herself with a reptilian head and every part of her naked body, except her breasts, covered with colorful scales ans swirls.
In both works, Hennequin presents a new vision of The Goddess for the post-feminist era. Indeed, she outdoes such formidable feminist predecessors as the late Hannah Wilke and Eleanor Antin, who also used their own naked bodies as a medium for making art. Perhaps the only earlier woman artist who approached Hennequin’s level of provocativeness was Linda Benglis who once took an ad in Artforum in which she appeared nude, sporting an enormous latex dildo. Just as aggressively, Hennequin defies the culturally designated passivity of acceptable feminine sexuality (which she parodied poignantly in an earlier series of docile nudes with bunny heads).

However, she does so more artfully by combining autophotography with a painterly power and panache akin to that of Karel Appel and other artists of the Cobra Group, the vigorous, animistic, neo-primitivist answer of her native Netherlands to Abstract Expressionism. Dragging the zeitgeist of that exclusively male Eurpean movement kicking and screaming into the postmodern age and endowing it with an elevated postfeminist consciousness, Hennequin stakes her claim on a new neofeminist mythology of empowerment, transforming her own photographed and painted image into symbols as potently provocative as Richard Lindner’s emblematic S&M Amazons of the 1960s.

Hennequin’s process, which involves photographing herself in color, then converting the image to black and white with Photoshop, transferring it to canvas, and adding not only paint but a variety of collage elements, sometimes including embroidery, results in a layered complexity. While the aesthetic element of her pieces can sometimes be upstaged by her showy imagery of her larger, more sexually explicit pieces (which might seem akin to the performance artist Karen Finley smearing peanut butter all over her naked body, if not for her painterly panache), the baroque beauty of Hennequin’s style comes to the forefront in smaller portraits heads such as “Jester”. “Under the Spell of Maenad”. The latter work, in which the artist transforms herself into one of the vine-crowned female worshippers of Dionysus from Greek mythology, is especially striking in this regard, the photo imagery richly embellished with an intricate array of drawn and collaged imagery and bathed in vibrant colors. That the Maenads, which literally translates as “raving ones”, were notorious for their copious sexual activity, violence, bloodletting, self-intoxication and mutilation makes this an especially resonant theme. And that Orpheus, the legendary poet and lyre player, was ultimately torn to pieces by Maenads adds an element of anti-art sentiment to the subject. But here, as in all of her work, Sylvia Hennequin’s aesthetic sensibility wins out, rendering even the most anarchic imagery consummately artful.

 

 

Ed McCormack © 2008/2009