Art’s always been obsessed with the body. The ancient, exaggerated booty and whammers of the Venus of Willendorf, the multi-limbed yet tiny-schlonged perfection of Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’, the fleshy blobs of Rubens, the fleshy blobs of Dubuffet, the fleshy blobs of Freud, and so on: basically, without a fascination for the body, we wouldn’t have most art.
In the 1960s, artists from Yoko Ono to Judy Chicago turned the body into a battleground for feminist politics. Through art, they reclaimed the body as a tool of rebellion, a weapon against entrenched sexism. American artist Park McArthur continues that strand of work in this show of readymade sculptures. Three massive slabs of ultra-absorbent polyurethane foam fill a corner of the room, their imposing black bulks standing like solemn, forgotten monuments. Across the walls and the floor are three rectangular paper works, coated in a super absorbent polymer used in feminine hygiene products. They’re halfway between modern monochrome paintings à la Yves Klein and giant Neolithic sanitary pads.
Just in case all that bodily symbolism is lost on you, McArthur has placed metal trays on a series of plinths. Each one is neatly stacked with foam dressings, plasters, lube, condoms, dental dams, catheters, medical tubing and latex gloves – all single-use items that are meant to contain, absorb, protect and heal the body. The objects act as sort of visual diary of the artist’s own body.
And it really is that personal. A plinth holds a stack of printouts: a letter from the Independent Living Fund, an organisation that supported disabled people until it was closed down last year. McArthur herself uses a wheelchair, so it’s easy to see the work as the artist’s attempt to reclaim her own body in a society that does anything but make life simple for the disabled.
Visually, there’s not much filling this big room, and maybe it’s not the most aesthetically exciting group of works. But McArthur’s art is clever, powerfully personal and clearly angry. What it lacks in fleshy blobs, it more than makes up for in clever conceptual secretions.