Jessica Lichtenstein: Morning
Jessica Lichtenstein: Morning
2017, C-print on acrylic with metal brackets
48 × 48 × 2 in; 121.9 × 121.9 × 5.1 cm
This is part of a limited edition set.
Using the female body as a mechanism to explore deeper themes of power, female representation, fetishism and objectification, usually in an ironic and cheerful way, Lichtenstein’s work embodies the very paradox she is trying to explore. Her work consciously plays with the boundaries of power, commercialization, consumerism, fantasy and propriety, provoking tensions that challenge the viewer to confront his or her own gaze.
Fascinated by the mass-production and fetishization of hyper-sexualized Japanese figurines, Lichtenstein’s first series manipulated the presentation and context of mass-produced anime dolls in order to imbue them with new associations and richer meaning. By taking these lifeless figures out of their plastic boxes and by placing them within the white cube of the gallery, Lichtenstein explores both the commodification of the female body while simultaneously examining how these forms change in the public vs. private realms. Through these vignettes, the girls are placed on a stage for public inspection and the viewer can voyeuristically watch these girls examine and perfect both themselves and their lives, exposing the extremism of a consumer culture dominated by western ideals of beauty and lifestyle.
Building on that initial series, Lichtenstein’s "word sculptures" examine the pornographic world of Japanese-inspired comic books. Creating her own imagined fantastical landscapes infused with a highly sexualized environment, Lichtenstein places these appropriated heroines in scenes that are reminiscent of Renoir’s, Cezanne’s or Picasso’s "nude bathers"; scenes that harken back to a time of "female as muse." Layering these images behind a thick buffer of acrylic, the pieces take a critical distance from their own content and in fact, beg the viewer to do the same. Through this thick lens, the viewer is asked to engage with and question whether these hyper-sexualized women are depicted solely to satisfy an insatiable male-dominated gaze, or if such a theory is too narrow, neglecting to address the complex nature of women and their desire to enjoy their sexuality, enjoy their bodies and their desire to be desirable.
In 2013, Lichtenstein departed from the overt sexuality of the Word Sculptures, and started creating landscape pieces that infused women as the foliage of trees, in order to investigate the simultaneous anonymity and specificity of the female characters. The faceless, repeating effeminate forms represent both the community of women in the world and the individual characteristics that make up a single woman. Varied body positions differentiate each figure and yet harmoniously contribute to the texture of the leafy, vibrant tree that unifies them.
In her recent solo show, "Eclipse: Out from the Shadows," Lichtenstein took inspiration from the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse, the first of its kind in 170 years, visible throughout the entire country. Strangers gathered on street corners, parking lots and grassy expanses to look -- through goggles, hopefully -- as the moon passed over the sun and, for a brief period, blocked it from view.
For Lichtenstein, the astronomical occurrence eerily mirrored what was going on here on earth. The moon -- traditionally represented as feminine in folklore and Romance languages -- was obstructing the (masculine) sun, simulating the women’s movements that burgeoned in the wake the 2016 election. Furthermore, the eclipse captured the attention of the entire nation, momentarily putting political divisions to rest. “It seemed like a changing tide, a rebirth of some kind,” Lichtenstein said.
Lichtenstein’s new series evolved from this realization. From a distance, her black, gold and pearl silhouettes resemble woodblock prints of blossoming trees. Look closer, however, and you’ll notice that each flower is a female body contorted into a unique position. The hyper-sexualized physiques are faceless, alluding to the male gaze’s tendency to reduce women to their bodily parts. But for Lichtenstein, these women are in the midst of a revolution. “These women are emerging from the shadows and revealing themselves, revealing their stories,” she said.
Lichtenstein’s landscapes teeming with women offer a vision of a fertile future, where women’s bodies form a lush army that is both sensual and strong. Their figures pay tribute to the female form’s extensive art historical precedent, as their teeming abundance hints at a highly anticipated uprising.