In her heyday, c. 1989, Madonna blazed a trail in pop music videos as a bondage queen/business tycoon, chanting the mantra 'Express yourself, respect yourself'. In many ways her career in the late 1980s and early '90s explored the edifice of female desire in an attempt to create an instruction manual for her fans. More than a decade later, it is safe to say that she was successful in creating an image of empowerment without ever delivering on the promise of her performative gestures.
I was reminded of Madonna at E.V. Day's recent installation of sculptural objects, entitled 'Galaxy'. Day is best known for constructing dramatic pieces that incorporate seductive materials such as lingerie and fake pearls. As a result of this process these materials are transformed into objects in the service of desires, ranging from pure aesthetic delight and utopian evolutionary yearnings to voyeurism and good old-fashioned power.
Day can be likened to Madonna for the way her sculptures command the viewer to take up a position that hovers between objectifier and objectified. This approach may encourage certain viewers to enjoy the fabled essences and exploits of a world mythologically made for men. But let there be no mistake, the point of entry into this so-called 'Galaxy' is definitely through Day's pleasure - the pleasure of the maker, whose musings fetishize sex and military might with an even hand. Nowhere in the show is the suggestion of submission more apparent than in Wet Spot (2003), a rubber tongue with a bead of secreted resin running down its centre. The only actual body part represented in the show, the work is installed quietly on the wall in a room full of dramatically lit viscous sculptures.
'Galaxy' ensnares the viewer within opulent, ambient allusions to sex shops and spaceships, only to nip any potential ardour in the bud with the sterile accoutrements of secret laboratories and fertility clinics. The first piece as one enters the black-walled, dramatically lit gallery on the left is Egg Drop (2003). This visual convergence of the female orgasm and biological reproductive process of egg release is hung from the ceiling by monofilament - literally a thong catching an egg as it passes into a solidified mass of resin or gooey secretion. This moment of convergence (already synchronized for men into a single moment) would remain two distinct events for women without the help of science fiction, laboratory testing and sculpture. Another thong and resin piece hanging delicately from the ceiling is G-Spot Gestation (2003). In this piece Day aggressively directs the melding of the technological and biological. From the perspective of the (thong) wearer, it is now possible to pause the orgasm and suspend the spicy hot climactic moment in part-polished, part-sticky neon crystal acrylic discharge - panties become a virtual reality helmet.
Most of the materials used by Day hold an aesthetic promise of titillation, and this has always been the allure of the work. But in Stealth (2002-3), a backlit outline of a bomber plane made of monofilament and glowing in the dark, the artist uses this notion of the technological imperative most literally without incorporating viscosity into the equation. This attempt at aesthetic synthesis hinges on the notion of aggressive imperatives that conjure up the intoxicating power struggle of the fashion model lounging on the sports car at the motor show. In Egg Drop it is the reproductive imperative and in Stealth the imperative of military defence: potently fascist, safely fetishistic and above all, in terms of gender definition, confusing. While it takes a bit of effort to get over the 'hot chick, cool car' aspect of the objects in 'Galaxy', a deeper look is definitely worthwhile.
Day finds inspiration in the different imaginative approaches required for both the the creation of lingerie and reproductive technology. Through these themes she thoughtfully continues to explore references derived from Eva Hesse's resin sculptures and Kathy Acker's science fiction writing. When Day casts the male gaze, she hints at the possibility of a bizarre and titillating new sexuality; "friezeCentennial-Regular" but as with most things post-feminist, it is unclear who, if anyone, is empowered by it.