1. Are you sure you put your sex on properly this morning? - Helene Cixous
First things first: No penises were harmed in the making of this exhibition. Disclaimers aside, to pretend
that the title, subject matter, and exclusivity of this show don’t lend themselves to a specific category of
critique would be naïve, but let me set your mind at ease: these aren’t the kind of penises that have men
attached to them. This is a show about symbolic objects and foreign concepts. It’s as much Joseph Kosuth
as it is some kind of bizarro Dinner Party.
That being said, I would like to suggest that the reason for separatism in the case of this exhibition
is not so much political as it is curatorial- that is, someone with a penis actually attached to them might be
too close to the subject matter to really deal with memory. And memory is the seed; pardon the wordplay, of
this experiment, not mimicry, and certainly not mockery. Memory, by virtue of its subjective imperative,
exists against essentialism. There are no Platonic penises here, no essentialised masculinity represented by
the Eternal Phallus. No, there are just a bunch of idiosyncratic dicks, a lot of them flaccid, and none of them
functional. In other words, it’s not you, it’s us.
2. Each sex has a relation to madness. Every desire has a relation to madness. But it would seem that one
desire has been taken as wisdom, moderation, truth, leaving to the other sex the weight of madness that
cannot be acknowledged or accommodated.
- Luce Irigary
In this media moment, where more and more screens confront us, more and more subjectivities,
more and more interpolations, the phallic gaze is a redundancy. Once the gaze is identified, deconstructed,
reconstructed, appropriated, re-deployed, critiqued, and internalized, the circle closes. The female body, so
long the site of battle for representation and inscription of meaning, has become an equal opportunity
commodity, both sacred and profane. The camera is no longer a substitute for the phallus. They are one and
Conversely, the penis seems so antithetical to the phallic logic of contemporary image culture
because the phallus has been separated from anatomical specificity and only given power insofar as its
proximity and relationship to the female body. Maybe that’s the root of the anxiety surrounding mistaken or
questionable female identity; from the meta-mediated scandals surrounding Caster Semenya and Lady
Gaga to your average run-of-the-mill hate crimes. If a woman has a penis, she cannot empower the phallus,
and the power given to her was done so deceitfully- the horror.
Meanwhile the penis, no longer upheld as the material manifestation of power, is an image and
symbol given short shrift. Now proximity to a penis isn’t necessary for validation within patriarchal/phallic
logic, just proximity to a camera. There’s a reason that the MPAA has a special connotation of specifically
male nudity, called graphic nudity. The desire and fear that have surrounded the female body for eons have
now been translated into the complex and obscenely lucrative underpinnings of commodity fetishism,
leaving the penis as the final frontier of the female gaze. The phallic gaze recoils from the penis, and in that
space is the exciting possibility of a visual language where symbol, object, and meaning are still undiluted
and full of possibility.
3. I confess: I have a female thing. Or maybe I have a “thing” about the female thing, or about things female,
but as a female, I don’t see how you can avoid it- this thing that makes women different from men. It’s pretty
much the defining feature of the female condition.
Since this is a show of all female artists that also deals with body parts, it’s probably a moot point to
address any questions regarding feminism. There is no one feminism to which we can all agree, after all,
and this exhibition doesn’t really hinge on the participants possessing a working knowledge of feminist art
What it does hinge on is the idea that inside every woman’s mind, there is a penis. No matter how
many factors of life might be defined by sexual difference, each woman possesses the memory, the image,
and the impression of the Other. And at this particular moment, when an image is readily accepted as more
valid than its subject (see: Photoshop), that’s kind of a big deal. The prevailing wisdom in some sectors is
that we, as a globalized culture with noted under-developed exceptions and given a future without any truly
apocalyptic scenarios, are becoming more and more digitized, merging more with our avatars and
enhancements as they gradually subsume our mammalian sense-world of pheromones, pores, hair, and
humors. Within this prevailing, nuanced, and loaded iconography, there will no doubt be new hierarchies
based on data quality, and some new economy of power. Until then, we can chase the slippage allowed by
the penis in our minds.
4. Audrey II: Feed me!
Seymour: Does it have to be human?
Audrey II: Feed me!
Seymour: Does it have to be mine?
Audrey II: FEEEED ME!
Seymour: Where am I supposed to get it?
- Little Shop of Horrors
These are not violent images. Even if they don’t engender desire per se, they don’t infer
dismemberment either. These penises sprang forth from the mind’s eye like Athena. They were made, not
taken. If there is a castrating impulse, then it is in the camera, with its shutter snap and flash. The camera’s
goal is possession and re-framing; not so in the case of the hand-made. As things become high-
definition, more real than real, the most violent gestural mark making cannot compare to the cruel
verisimilitude of digitally created abject bodies.
So what is the message, other than a show-and-tell of phantom limbs? It could be read as a kind of
giddy, jubilant, somewhat quixotic hypothetical: What if sexual difference ceased to be? Not in actual
biological terms, but in the collective cultural unconscious, the brave new image world? Without struggle
over the phallus, without those particular dynamics of supply-and-demand, how would we structure
ourselves? Could we really throw out the rulebook and try again? It’s a speculative fiction, a rhetorical
essay. For now.
5. We’ll have to knit or stitch a claw
We’ll have to drop the guns to draw
We’ll have to learn to read the letter aloud
To mum, to mum
We’re so proud
-Tracy + The Plastics