Saturday, September 15, 2007

In the Flesh

By Shauna Lee Lange

As some claim, if art is often about what's beautiful, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then art also has to be about what's unattractive, thought-provoking, downright shocking, and deeply disturbing.

It's the piece, much like the infamous Piss Christ, which makes you wonder, "Why would someone do that?"

John C. Manion of Iowa City, Iowa recently submitted such a piece to a juried competition of contemporary works. Manion's piece is titled Toward The Ideal, comes with a price tag of $8,000 and is one of over 500 entries submitted to In The Flesh, currently on exhibit at the Target Gallery in Old Town Alexandria.

Modeled clay and cast silicone (8" x 18.5" x 28.5") are formed to sculpt a naked baby, expressionless and totally immersed in rather believable bathtub water.

Toward The Ideal by John C. Manion
Long pause.


Wait. Did I see that correctly? I mean, who thinks these things? And who spends time, energy, and materials on producing a work like this? Reeling, I remembered that maybe the manifestation of the subconscious mind, the repressed, and the taboo is cathartic in it's own right.

It's not all Manion's fault. I recently gave birth to my son who is now about the size and proportion of the submerged infant. No unsuspecting mother wishes to stumble upon yet more violence involving children. How can Manion know that this scene is what all mothers deeply fear - there are people out there who think and do very bad things and sometimes, we are powerless.

I tell you, my little guy just loves the water. When we're at the pool, we wonder, is swimming for him what it was like to be back in the womb? This warm, weightless, free floating experience -- and what if we could go through all of life like that? What if there's nothing more honest?

We're flesh. Bland flesh that needs to be washed. Flesh that is dangerously close to innumerable forces that could lead to demise. Flesh left best, perhaps, in an innocent and unknowing world, albeit the tub!

Some collectors seek pieces that are so outrageously in your face with the power to transport the viewer. In these, the see-er has a predictable experience trajectory- shock, numbness, cavalier disinterest. The viewer is relieved from a secret thought prison. That is credited directly to the artist who was brave enough to risk saying yeah, you're not the only one who has ever thought that.

I know a fellow who owns a piece so vile and yet, over time, he has come to regard it as high humor.

Laugh if you must, but look. In the Flesh is about what we all seek: meaning. Maybe Manion is asking, what does immersion of the flesh, immersion in water, in a work, in your own life and immediate paradigm, or immersion in art really mean to you?

In The Flesh, juried by AU Professor Tim Doud is on exhibition until October 13, 2007.