BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 10 SEP 97
Featured in
Issue 36

Sarah Lucas

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 10 SEP 97

Question: What do you do if a bird shits on the windscreen of your car?

Answer: Chuck her.

Or alternatively, encourage her to be an artist, and make her an internationally famous celebrity.

Sarah Lucas' two shows 'Bunny Gets Snookered' at Sadie Coles HQ, and 'The Law', in St John's Lofts, Clerkenwell, ran more or less concurrently. 'The Law' was a miscellany of works exhibited in a large, brutalist industrial space around which some very muscular construction works were taking place. 'Bunny Gets Snookered' was single-themed and contained one eponymous piece.

Bunny Gets Snookered (1997) comprised a large number of misshapen female bunny figures made from fabric stuffed into flesh-coloured tights, which looked like dispirited Barry Flanagan Hares in bunny drag, the morning after the night before. These were placed around a full-size snooker table, on top of which two further bunnies sat, back to back, amongst snooker balls. The many identical bunnies had splayed legs, and were only differentiated by being sheathed in different coloured stockings, corresponding to the snooker balls.

Held to their chairs by some unforgiving masculist clamps, the bunnies had a sort of authentically seedy, post-fucked, spunked-on look. They were ranked like sexual conquests, pocketed, in a horrible polygamy, by the malign presence of the overbearingly male snooker table. In the game, the situation of being snookered dictates playing an indirect shot. But Bunny Gets Snookered seemed a conventionally direct shot, the abused rabbit fuckees forming a developmentally simple, illustrative diagram of the complaints of dysphoric sexuality and gender.

Negative themes of restraint, passive inaction and imprisoned defeat continued in 'The Law', where Lucas might be seen as taking a bit of a piss on Hume's (David not Gary) distinction between fact and moral obligation. Here, the snookering, or obstructive defeat principle, is apparent as an effectively used recurring device. In a series of self-portrait photographs Lucas places an object between the area of her vagina and the viewer, generally at the point on the image where the horizon line and vanishing point would meet. In a variation on this, she occasionally places the obstruction between the viewer and her head. I Know What I Like in Your Wardrobe (1996), is a sullenly adolescent, drag-king self-portrait painted on a large, crude egg. Here the obstruction is the sole of her heavy boot, used in an ambiguous foreshortening of personal sovereignty. Elsewhere, more good humouredly, it is a skull, or in The Law (1997) it is a rough, cast-concrete TV, with the dread words THE LAW impressed into it. The artist sits her toughened denim vagina on this TV, legs akimbo, pointedly reading an upside-down copy of The Sun. In Fighting Fire with Fire 20 Pack (1997), a self-destructive, punk vandalism of yellow ink is introduced between the 20 large, repetitious Warholian self-portraits and the viewer. The image is of the artist defiantly smoking, looking like one very confident Kray sister indeed; but the effacement of the splashed ink renders the work a huge double negative, quivering between self-important grandiosity and anguished self doubt like one of those suicides that are well timed to be unsuccessful. In Human Toilet (1997), an impressively large photo work, a vulnerably naked Lucas is in a lockable space, the principal human sanctuary of the toilet cubicle. Here she sits in a privately poignant embrace with a lavatory cistern, which obstructs both her vagina and her breasts.

Other works include Chuffing Away to Oblivion (1996), a Venus Fly Trap for working-class males. This is an enclosure for smoking in, the inside walls of which are covered with tarry yellow, C3-social-class, sexist tabloids, and the lock of which is on the outside. Other works of entrapment and ridicule include Round About My Size (1997), a spherical mild steel cage intended for Lucas in the role of some kind of unfortunate performing seal. Solid Gold Easy Action (1997) is a crap reg., rusting Ford Capri, within which, if working, a hydraulic pump simulated the rising and falling of the vehicle as if a bloke and bird were vigorously shagging inside their chariot of desire. Down Below (1997) is a suspiciously pretty work, a bath from which the contents, a thickly pinkish, corporeal paint, have escaped in a messy prolapse onto the floor. There seems here to be some kind of sad equivalence, of the vagina as drain and female physicality as an undervalued, unbounded tragedy.

Lucas is the object of a personality cult, not necessarily related to her actual work. Here, connoisseur trainspotters of pan-cultural trends can identify many crossovers shared with the vocabulary, value interests and marketing of rock and pop. The possible correspondences it is possible to identify are many; some of which are flattering, and some not, from pre-Denis Bovell Slits (Chuffing away to Oblivion) through to Suzanne Vega (Human Toilet). Lucas' themes and guitarless, singer/songwriter poses are very 'and no bird do sing', but bird do put on a great stage act. This includes a number of identifiable emotional marketings. Conspicuous among them is the traditional, bankable, teenage war dance, refined by rock and roll, of pre-emptive defiance.

Lucas' elegantly economical fuck off manner is, like anyone else's, designed to be protective, but can sometimes however proceed by stages to fuck all, and terminate finally, unless interrupted, in a depressing fuck up. This seems too high a mark-up to get a point across, especially as Lucas has already proven her considerable formal resources, and, when not just being sarcastic, a nicely dry wit. If over extended, Lucas' emotional landscape of inarticulate pains becomes just too fucked up. Then, her defensive litigations, cul-de-sac sub-clauses and unjust punishments are seen to be conspicuously lacking in the essential vitamins and minerals traditionally necessary to make such a world bearable: smack, crack or Tennents Super.

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.