Thursday, August 6, 2009


my fans often ask me: jon, why don't you write more about penises?

what a great idea! here's my culture corner column this week:

Susan Bozic’s boyfriend is perfect. In a new photo exhibit at the MSVU Art Gallery, she lovingly documents their dream romance: he lets her choose the movie for their first date, joins her for their Sunday-morning ritual of coffee at the café and makes a picnic date on a sunny morning. When she comments that her feet are sore, he scoops her up and piggy-backs her home.
In photo after photo, Susan gazes with love-clouded eyes at her hunky suitor. But Carl … there’s something wrong with Carl. Despite the high romance of the situations, he remains impassive. His body language is wooden. Plastic, even.
Carl puts the “man” in “mannequin.” In a tribute to commercial love, Bozic played the “girlfriend” and employed a dummy to be her boyfriend.
“I have been interested in artificiality and fabrication for a long time,” she told me in an email interview. “Working with Carl became a natural choice. I then had to find a context to put him in, so I gave him a girlfriend (the role that I play) and the two set out dating.”

The commercial media spends a lot of money selling us the idea that our lives will be as happy as those of the storefront mannequins if only we have such an attractive partner and the requisite material goods, she says.
Staging the shots introduced a performance-art side to her work as she hauled Carl around and set up the scenes.
“It was an adventure each time,” she says. “One time, when setting up the boat scene, We had a beautiful time … I was fixing Carl’s shirt, when all of a sudden a woman loudly exclaimed, ‘He’s hot!’”
Dating Portfolio is a witty, silly work, worth a trip to the Bedford Highway. It might even be the perfect first date …
After touring the photos downstairs, I head upstairs to another exhibit. My progress is arrested by a sign warning that the upstairs gallery “contains adults subject matter which may be offensive to some.”
An all-capitals sign at the top of the stairs further rings the alarm bells, as patrons are forbidden to touch or photograph the exhibits: “GAL­LERY ATTENDANT WILL INTERVENE IF NECESSARY.”

Here is what I found: a softly lit, lovingly arranged collection of self-portraits of a penis. Many of the video-footage-turned-sepia-photos depict a humble, flaccid winkle in chains. Sometimes he is free, though still glum.
The write-up says R.S. Pennee’s Alter Ego explores gender and transgender, so I’m guessing the shackled willy represents the expectations of what it is to be a man. This penis is as mild-mannered Clark Kent, not the erect Superman we are used to.
At one point, the exhaustive write-up by Peter Schwenger, professor emeritus at MSVU’s English department, explores Study #33, which shows a penis next to a hand: “The incipient turgidity of the penis has something ominous about it; it appears brutal and stupid next to the slender and finely formed hand.”
Ominous? Brutal? To my untrained eye, it looks like a morose organ just hanging out. But what do I know? I would have entitled the exhibit: The Penis, Mightier than the Sword?
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