January 22, 2009
by: Katuschka

When critiquing art, one often finds oneself pondering the big questions. Questions such as ‘Do you know I could buy a small slave boy for that amount?’, ‘What does half an apricot balanced on a screwdriver have to do with feminism, exactly?’, ‘I’m shorry sir, wasshh that your painting, you have lovely feet? Hey you, shtop I’m a critic you can’t throw me out, you need me!’ and of course ‘Where’s my next free glass of wine coming from?’ All valid, some not even questions.

But perhaps the most pondersome of all is ‘What is art?’. Yes, the riddle that has spawned reeling spools of lit-crit like some endless roll of toilet paper. What magical line must be crossed on the way from the ordinary, to the husky bosom of aestheticism? Well, after visiting Colin Corbett’s Strapped show at the Eckersley Gallery the other day, I have deduced this – if you can think of it, slap it in a gallery and charge rich people wads of cash – you’ve got art baby! Yes lit-crits, it’s as simple as that, I shall now accept your awe as I gaze from my pedestal.

Strapped is an exhibition of decorated jockstraps, yes, those half-pants that conjure up images of slapped American buttcheeks. It’s possibly the campest, most ludicrous exhibition in the world, and yet somehow it’s chock full of genius and skill. Inspired by an ancient, Middle Eastern suit of armour – made for a king and covered in elaborate jewels – Corbett decided to bring this impractical dichotomy of masculinity and high camp into the 21st century by be-jewelling the humble jockstrap. He first had the idea for the exhibition when he joked to his friends that an uncomfortable looking man was wearing his diamanté jockstrap inside out (ha! He sounds fun…) and the idea grew from there.

As it turns out, the jockstrap sure scrubs up well. Using religious icons, kabuki masks, Swiss clocks, Indian ‘evil eye’ charms, fake flowers and pinstripe, Corbett has managed to make objets d’art out of the unlikely. This exhibition as a whole is no half-assed joke and each piece is exquisitely crafted and informed by history, myth, theatre and Corbett’s own travels.

Corbett has also had fun with his show by delving into a bountiful reservoir of punnage. Some are charming, such as the Swiss Cock and Evil Eye-Balls, some are pun-tastic such as the Fly Front series, and some are just a little scary, such as the Fisting Strap (ahem). Corbett sees the jockstrap as a symbol of caricatured, over-the-top masculinity, an item of repressed sexual urges, and a piece of clothing designed to both reveal and conceal.

Perhaps the best reason to go see this exhibition is that it needs to be seen to be believed. The fact that someone would dedicate themselves so wholeheartedly to something that would usually be bought as a joke gift from Anne Summers is peculiarly impressive, and a good example of British eccentricity and bawdiness. Only one small complaint though: the curator seems to have overlooked the possibility for live models. Perhaps, at Corbett’s next exhibition he’ll remedy this. Or so one can hope…


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