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By Kerstin Mey

Specific fabric is extra commonly on hand within the net age than ever earlier than, but the concept that of "obscenity" is still as tricky to pin down because it is to procedure with out bias: notions of what's "obscene" shift with societies' transferring mores, and our responses to particular or stressful fabric should be hugely subjective. during this clever and delicate ebook, Kerstin Mey grapples with the paintings of 20th century artists training on the edges of acceptability, from Hans Bellmer via to Nobuyoshi Araki, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Annie Sprinkle, and from Hermann Nitsch to Paul McCarthy. Mey refuses sweeping statements and "kneejerk" responses, arguing with dexterity that a few works, despite their "high art" context, stay deeply not easy, whereas others are either groundbreaking and freeing. <u></u>

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They range from the appearance of the cross to a recourse to the motif of ‘Madonna and Child’, as in Fisting. In the latter, there is a strong connection to the earlier photographic image Heaven and Hell (1984) that presents the figures of a nude, bleeding woman, whose arms are tied and raised upwards, with a cardinal to her right. Reading the image from left to right, the picture does not just spell out the conflict between the Christian belief that wo-man is made in the image of God, and is therefore sacred, and the Church’s traditional view of the body as dirty and shameful.

Serrano’s Vagina Dentata – Vagina with Teeth, which is part of his sixteen-cibachrome series The Interpretation of Dreams (2001), gives a literal account of this treacherous locus. In profile view, it displays a female labia surrounded by a thick forest of pubic hair from which shark teeth threateningly spring out. Animal-like, it drastically shouts out ‘cunt-hate’ and ‘womb-fear’ and provides a masculinist rationale for the social control and disciplining of female sexuality.

In Seedbed (1970), the American artist (b. 1940) hid under a ramp in a New York gallery space and masturbated while responding to incoming visitors with his voice. Whilst the act of self-gratification remained off-scene, Acconci’s voice indicated to the audience what was happening. The artist’s body as theme, material and agent also stands at the centre of the three-part suite Conversions (1971), where he engaged in attempts of desired embodied transformations to adopt the positions of the Other: burning off his chest hair, pulling his breasts to develop female breasts; moving around whilst concealing his penis between his legs.

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