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About the gaze - Critical or longing?

Leaving Sara Möller’s exhibition at hand a first time, I immediately gather a handful of the best snaps from my phone and express deliver them within the hour to Vienna and namely to a friend not priorly acquainted to her work. This is one of those people with whom you may or may not have been more intimately linked to in the past and whose words in the aftermath of a certain bond-age will probe a curiosity not afforded just anyone, just as it will similarly meet your respectful scrutiny and earn more than just a mañana-mañana reception. They duly praise her work and without any apparent judgment attribute it as very feminine. This begins to strike a chord with me since despite having followed Sara’s work over the years, sometimes from closer view and other times at an arm’s length distance, I have never actually thought the thought myself. Meret Oppenheim’s quintessential sculpture Ma gouvernante – My Nurse – Mein Kindermädchen or Louise Bourgeois’s Arch of Hysteria of equal grandeur strikes me as being feminine or informed by feminine iconography. Sara’s body of work at large has rather often appeared genderless to me, the way Bourgeois’s spiders also deceptively do at first, until you realize at inspection, that they are a representation of maternal power and reproductive force, rebuffing that initial fallacy of the non-binary. And if you’re big on your popcultural cult trivia, that spider is really the high-brow art reincarnation of the “bigfoot” in the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. I think a while about what to make out of the gaze on, at face value abstracted and amorphic sculptural shapes like those of Sara’s in this exhibition. I think of how inherent biases (or the lack thereof) play such a pivotal part in whether they are vegetative shapes more akin to the realm of flora, or if they more of than not bear rather the presence of the gendered human and thus politicized body.

Photo: Mattias Hök Nordqvist

A recurrent fixture in the exhibition accordingly actually appears to be the phallic form mimetic of the male sex; prevalent in both the watercolours as well as the sculptural installations. I think it must be an urge I share, surely with others to tend to assume the phallus at the hands of a woman in art must likely be a feminist statement of sorts; a comment on the binary battle of the sexes; the unjust manspreading, a resistance and strive for societal phallic descendancy. That would be to arbitrarily adopt a feminist gaze based on disparity between bodies more so than on attraction (not that either direction is ruled out by the title; About Longing). However, what that bias is also significant of from the outset is an instinctive disbelief or suspension, that needs to be recognized out loud, against the whim that the phallus could just as well or easily speak only of female lust; appreciation of the male form and sex, and its singular qualities. That’s probably what you would call a female gaze; not a feminist one, just straight-up (heteronormatively) female. And it is in that regard a fact that Sara Möller’s sculptural bodies on view do more than just once appear in a pairing, connoting either to bodies intimately interlocking in embrace (where one appears phallic and testicled), or bodies nevertheless in an evident relational interplay.

Sara Möller, Alla separationer är sammanbudna, installation at BERG Gallery. Photo: Jonas Ingerstedt

In one instance, All separations are linked together, I think of Brâncuși’s The Kiss which is marked by a blatantly endearing and very innocent humour, devoid of irony or sarcasm. A saltier humour certainly seems present here in Sara’s work, considering the title and the formal proportions of the apparent male-oriented “body”. Apropos of humour, elaborating on the gendered gaze on the phallus in art, it strikes me from experience that the male gaze on phallic art by men is often tied with humour and brashness. Be it whether in the case of Paul McCarthy’s Tree or that of a fellow Swedish artist among the most akin to Sara Möller; Per B. Sundberg, who himself has attributed his phallic form as burlesque. The tie-in jargon that comes to mind with phallic art by men is along the lines of that whole; free-it-and-just-shove-it-right-out-there-in-all-its-glory, where the humour supposedly lies in the release. In another of Sara’s pairings, in the work Dressage, the possibly male-oriented “body” is in very stark contrast however not free at all. Rather it is found bound by a rope and thus appears in a weaker position in relation to its counterpart. If the title serves as a lead when stretching the imagination, the former is apparently subjected to the grooming of the other. For me it becomes impossible then not think about pioneering feminist Valie EXPORT’s subliminal performance From the Underdog File where she walked her artist partner Peter Weibel (on all four) on a dog leash on open streets in Vienna. The longing for unity and intimacy between bodies while present in Sara’s display, seems here subjected to and conditioned by the dominance of one over the other that favours the non-male. In what is another charged centerpiece in the exhibition, The Wounded Diva, the phallus stands potent and ascending in a configuration of mixed medias but sees the same material treatment of being suspended and controlled by rope. The female-centric and ultimately empowering proverb Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned deriving from William Congreve’s play The Mourning Bride suddenly springs to mind. This is humorous and I’m found entertained.

Sara Möller, Appendix, installation at BERG Gallery. Photo: Jonas Ingerstedt

Seeing Sara Möller’s Appendix on one of the snaps, my friend called it a ”pregnant Venus” in a way as though being so blatantly obvious. Perhaps I should have been more perceptive to its form, but I didn’t see it. Returning to the exhibition a second time, while bearing these words in mind, fertile shapes and the notion of reproductive course and interplay dawn on me a lot more now, less stressed by political resonance. The essential systems where life itself is concerned, by way of vital organs beyond merely the reproductive, whether the heart, lungs or kidneys, find my increasing attention in her watercolours. They chant about life and its fundamental conditions, to begin with. I think thereby of something someone once cunningly said: “I didn’t come out of your ribs, you came out of my vagina”. I like that; reaffirming in our politically skewed and backwards-driven times, the idea of life as the labour foremostly of a female omnipresence and towering force. About that gaze again, what do I finally arrive at then if not both female and feminist.

This text written by C-print's editor-in-chief is Ashik Zaman is due in an upcoming catalogue by Sara Möller.

Sara Möller, Dressyr, installation at BERG Gallery. Photo: Jonas Ingerstedt

Sara Möller, Den sårade divan, installation at BERG Gallery. Photo: Jonas Ingerstedt

Sara Möller, watercolours on paper, installation at BERG Gallery. Photo: Jonas Ingerstedt

The exhibition Om Längtan is currently showing by appointment at BERG Gallery (Hälsingegatan 43, corner Hudiksvallsgatan)


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