Sue Kent reviews The Great Wall of Vagina - a series of panels using moulds taken directly from the body to produce sculpture - on show from 6 - 31 May 2011 at Jamie McCartney Sculpture Studios, 7 Ship Street Gardens, Brighton, as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival.
The end of a five year project is in sight for Jamie McCartney. Working as a lifecasting artist, using moulds taken directly from the body to produce a sculpture as accurate as a photograph, he has captured four hundred plaster casts of vulvas. The work is arranged in ten large panels creating a nine metre long polyptych.
I first saw this work half way through its completion, I provided my arms for a project he is working on. Having an 8 inch long arm disability I cannot reach certain parts of my body and tend not to think about them too much. Viewing one of these panels in McCartney's studio and facing up to an unexplored dimension of myself was fascinating and highly thought provoking.
Jamie talked me through how he set out to make this project as broad and inclusive as possible. The age range of the women is from 18 to 76. Included are mothers and daughters, identical twins, transgendered men and women as well as a woman pre and post natal and another one pre and post labiaplasty.
Looking at the individual casts and then taking the piece as a whole is a multidimensional experience. The complete work is a tactile and detailed masterpiece.
The collection of vulvas are presented in block mono colour. By divesting the subject matter of its biological colouring the artist removes the vivid natural tones of the female genitalia and by doing so has successfully removed the ego and personality of the human model.
This lack of distraction enables the viewer to see the beauty, texture, design and originality of the abundance of vulvas on display. This highly interesting less emotionally charged presentation shows the fascinating differences within human anatomy.
The undulation and curves created by the block casts is in direct contrast to the repeating rectangular uniform panels they are displayed within and highlights the natural delicate shapes of the female body held inside a regimented structural composition.
For those who might dismiss this as pornography, think again. Throughout history there have been many recordings of female genitalia presented in context as part of the whole female form, some erotic some sensual, some graphic and anatomical.
Separating the person from the body, celebrating the beauty and texture of a single part, is a fascinating concept and carried to conclusion by McCartney with sensitivity and respect.
Society continues to attempt to homogenize female form, to remodel her most private beauty, this is a sad reflection of our cultural obsession with perfection, Jamie McCartney's work allows women access to view something not usually shared, to take time to appreciate that there is no such thing as normal and accept and enjoy the physical differences of their body and what makes each female wonderfully unique.
A piece of art, a subtle educational tool and an a visual weapon in the propaganda war against the creeping overuse of cosmetic surgery and the definition of perfect.
In the words of Loretta Swift “It's really time for us to grow up and discover our vaginas.”
There’s a short movie clip about The Great Wall of Vagina on YouTube