Like many of us, multidisciplinary artist Frances Goodman has spent a lot of time within the confines of her own home since March earlier this year. Forced to utilise the resources at her disposal, the works that she has created for her newest solo exhibition, Uneventful Days, are in many ways restricted by the disruptions of lockdown – limited access to materials, isolation from people, and the four walls of her home studio.
Yet, despite being borne of limitation, the pieces for Uneventful Days don’t take the inconveniences of the pandemic as their fulcrum. In Bodies in Lockdown, a series of new sequin paintings, figures in various states of undress are presented in all their resplendent imperfection. Given shelter-in-place instructions and social distancing etiquette, the source images for the series had to be obtained in a different way than usual: In an effort to seek collaboration in isolation, and rather than photographing them herself, Goodman asked participants to provide her with self portraits that responded to their perceived relationship with their bodies during lockdown, at a time when they are no longer deemed safe or strong.
Interviews conducted over Zoom allowed contributors to explain, in their own words, why they chose to participate in the project, to represent themselves in such a revealing and candid manner. The images Goodman received were anything but vulnerable or defenceless – rich, full-colour, graphic, and self-assured portraits flooded into her inbox, each one destined for a large-scale interpretation in glittering, plastic sequins. Forming a departure from the studied poses of previous sequin paintings, Bodies in Lockdown presents selfies as seduction, selfies as high art, selfies as protest. Both ordinary and one of a kind, these are representations that are simultaneously rooted in idleness and agency, in the spirit of body positivity and no fucks given. They provide a glimpse into the lives and mindsets of those who offered them, at a time when they have the spare hours in uneventful days to reflect.
Photographs of men Goodman knows become the source material for a series of new Eyelash Drawings. Individual false lashes curl across the pages of the six nude portraits she has created, mimicking body hair in a way that is both delightful in its delicate replication of this ostensibly masculine trademark, and mildly revulsive in its pseudo-abjection. These new Eyelash Drawings are sensitive and painstaking renditions of a practice that reverses one of art’s history’s most long-standing power structures: the male gaze. They carry with them the history of the reclining nude, the still life, and the woman as object, directly opposing the male gaze by replacing that object with the male body.
Accompanying the intimate figurations of Uneventful Days are some of the vivid, characteristically large-scale sculptural works that viewers have come to expect from Goodman. Two slick, serpentine nail sculptures represent a continuation of Goodman’s process, each rigid false fingernail in their lamellate forms flashing like venomous teeth, while a clot of brightly coloured fabric offers a more amiable appearance. On closer inspection, the open mouth of Bouquet, a new textile sculpture, reveals that it’s composed of hundreds if not thousands of men’s neckties. Relics from the days when they were a symbol of power, a Don Draper-esque indicator of social status, Goodman collected the now-discarded ties she used for this work from thrift store bargain bins.
Like an overripe fruit, Dead Weight splits at the seams, rendered bloated and obsolete. Gone are the days when wearing a necktie to work was a dress code requirement. Gone too are the days when being dressed was a requirement for work, now that the pandemic has forced many of us to work from home. While office buildings sit empty, this artefact of the modern workplace succumbs to its own weight, swelling and softening like a body, surrounded by images of bodies in their own homes – vulnerable, defenceless, uninhibited, powerful.
Uneventful Days captures a moment in time. Locked down in their houses or apartments with nothing but WiFi as an anchor to the outside world, the photographs that Goodman’s subjects have provided are powerful just-as-I-am images, representations that challenge the pretty or conceited constraints of the selfie medium. If the nude form in art suggests power in men and sexuality in women, nude or seminude self-portraits in the time of a pandemic imbue the subject with both. Their sexuality is obvious, their power contextual: the power to seduce without contact, to connect when physical interaction is potentially life-threatening, to make art by and about themselves.
Text by Fay Janet Jackson