Senior art show seduces, shocks

Friday, March 2, 2007

At a distance, the nude form could be mistaken for a human one. Her vacant eyes betray a hollow interior, devoid of any signs of life. Her rapturous pose, however, is surprisingly alive – she reclines in orgasmic ecstasy with her arms and head arching backwards.

She is only a mannequin.

“Archives,” the senior show of Jessie Chaney ’07, has both seduced and shocked viewers this past week in the lobby of the List Art Center. Chaney’s audacious and confrontational depictions of female sexuality range from the perverse to the downright raunchy.

Chaney’s most stunning piece, a 7-foot collage of black and white photographs sprawled entirely across one wall, depicts an immense variety of candid snapshots. Gritty urban street scenes parallel the unadulterated appearance of anonymous women who tug provocatively at their lingerie. Brazen, forward and almost intimidating, these leggy temptresses are faceless and therefore sexually accessible.

By abruptly cropping these photographs, Chaney provides the spectator with an unusual vantage point from which viewers imagine crouching surreptitiously with an eye pressed up against the boudoir keyhole.

This notion of a taboo scene concealed from our sight gives the viewer a sense of satisfying a guilty or forbidden pleasure, which can be unsettling.

“At some points, it even made me feel uncomfortable to think that other people may see me looking so intently at the pieces,” said Kieran Gopaul ’07. “It really made me question my comfort level with sexual images and objects.”

“Archives” is Chaney’s first show and is the culmination of six years of work. “In a sense, these works really represent the closure of this last phase of my life as I embark upon the next one,” Chaney said.

A general quality of edginess pervades the exhibit. Chaney’s portrayal of mannequins as sex objects and her use of pink dildos and fluffy handcuffs as subjects for a still life are startling, but her approach cannot be regarded as characteristically explicit.

In her horizontal series of red-tinted photographs, for instance, the allusions to eroticism are more suggestive and subtle in nature. A partial face, unidentifiable limbs and outlines are only barely discernable. Fragmented shots of latex and lace would seem to suggest a kinky encounter, but the true nature of the scene remains ambiguous. Chaney does not shock through confrontation as much as she woos with her sensuous presentation of subtle contours.

Next year Chaney intends to participate in the yearlong master’s degree program offered by Sotheby’s auction house in London and plans to pursue photography on the side. “I just feel so lucky to have already found my passion in life. So many graduates are uncertain about what they want to do with their lives and it’s a real gift to already have some sort of idea,” Chaney said.

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