the love machine…or solo groping in the dark

Solo Groping in the Dark: Sharon Raynard
March 21 – April 12, 1997

a response to the exhibition by Jennifer Stillwell

In the automatic age we have not ignored the love-machine — we physically have become a mechanical competitor, and we have the desire to perfect not only our environment but also ourselves and our bodies. We are finding we are not living up to the capabilities of our bodily extensions. We alone survive as a kind of mushy love-machine proficient in thrills we attempt to define and control, and our culture tends to reduce sex to a question of mechanics, hygiene, and fashion.

control yourself Abstractions from the body are defined by what they are by appearance yet they become something more — a metaphysical temptation. We relate directly to the detached form and want to harness it in a way that it can, ideally, interact with us. Raynard’s series of sex toys appear as lifeless prosthetics, but she provides with each one her personal way to interact with it:

[solo groping image] l’autononmie & me
We can go anywhere —
anywhere that there is rushing
water. Be that from a fountain,
a bathtub, or a stream, enjoy the
tingling feeling — be it gentle or
me & l’autononmie

Sharon Raynard, excerpt from
Solo Groping in the Dark

Raynard implies that with the proper stimuli she is the master of her own personal pleasure. Through the exhibition of her sex toys and the association of the ways she enjoys them, she is attempting to desensitize the notion that expressing yourself sexually on a singular basis is taboo.

quick fix The case for personal stimulation exists as a natural reaction to the sexual weariness we tend to suffer in Western culture due to massive ad campaigns which imply the ideal way to act and look in a sexually interactive situation. Raynard’s exhibition indicates that with effort we can perhaps attempt to change individually the definition of pleasure, and achieve a more intense personal experience than popular sex can offer.

good clean fun The sex toys are obviously intended erotic stimuli yet at the same time they seem quite clinical, especially with the rubber tubing running through them and the sterile diagrams that are associated with each one. Coupled with the artist’s above statement one can arrive at the notion that these devices are also used to achieve that “shower-fresh feeling”. The “dirtiness” associated with masturbation is seemingly cleansed with the use of the device in the intended, more acceptable, clinical situation.

fully loaded In the exhibition as a whole, a type of innocent playfulness is met head on with loaded objects. The sex toys come in a variety of colors, complete with their own discrete decorative case, ready to complement any outfit. The nearby kiddie pool is complete with a dildo fountain and blow-up whale. The video you can view from the lawn chair in the pool is a scenario of animated detached penises dancing to the hummed tune of the Nutcracker Suite-The Waltz of the Flowers by Tchiakovsky. The obvious puns create an ambivalent context in which the sex toys become displaced and the viewer is left to reconstruct their purpose.

Jennifer Stillwell is a Winnipeg-based visual artist working within the mediums of video and installation art. Her recent tapes include: Remote Sensing & Cut and Dried.