Jen Ray and the Erogenous Zone

Jen Ray. Photo by Susanne Ullerich

What do women want? It’s the age-old question that supposedly no man can answer – and then there’s the even more controversial question about what women want in the bedroom. With conversations about the relevance of porn for women, female-friendly erotica and that bestselling novel raging on, a contemporary artistic expression of this issue can’t be far away. A new show, Erogenous Zone, at Neukölln’s Galerie Körnerpark and Pony Royal held by feminist collective ff attempts to elucidate and clarify, if not fully answer, that question. Work ranges from fireworks lingering in the sky after exploding to video installations of icicles being licked from the artist’s face by a group of slavering men. The personal nature of eroticism comes to the fore here: mainstream, heterosexual, male-driven sexuality is at best a background narrative, instead of a driving force.

Founding member of ff, Jen Ray, explained that the event had been a long time in the making. ‘In the beginning we realized we wanted to create multiple projects for ourselves that touched on topics of shared interest such as sexuality, economics, identity, and gender. We spent a great deal of time discussing these topics before setting out to create concrete projects.’ Though generally focused on depicting women as dominant and action-seeking agents, most notably in her performance art pieces, Ray’s work in the Körnerpark show displayed more submissive depictions of her subjects. ‘I wanted to show something about sexuality being something that lives and grows with you as you get older. It can be an almost violent thing, double-edged. Sometimes the sword cuts inward and sometimes it cuts outward.’ The porcelain axe above, covered with detailed flowers bursting with life, perhaps illuminates this idea most clearly. ‘It’s inspired by this idea from Dutch still lifes – of just everything bursting all at once with vitality and life.’ Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! The detail and delicate nature of execution is also evident in her drawings, which create a monochrome landscape inhabited by women, almost as creatures. 

As well as more practical questions of how to feature more female artists in exhibition, the ff group questions depictions of gender. The power imbalance in workplaces is notorious, and the art world is no exception. An ambitious woman gets labelled a bitch, an ambitious man a go-getter. I ask Jen if she feels like her ‘characters’, as she calls them, are a ‘safe’ way to express her ambition without stepping on any toes: ‘I don’t think so – I just care a lot about women. I care about how they think, what they do…’ . We agree that there’s a difference in the way that female and male artists approach their work, and she explains that her attitude has to be as close to simple self-belief as she can get. And a talisman, right in the centre of her drawing board, no less, demonstrates her commitment to that aim: a meme-esque font reminds her ‘haters gonna hate’.

And here’s where the ff group comes in for Ray – a ‘safe space’, a female only group, it’s a first point of contact for its members’ work. ‘I always work with women, so it makes a lot of sense for me,’ Ray explains. It seems clear that, despite gender-normative perceptions, members of the group are all very honest and forthright in their opinions – there’s no space for people not speaking their minds or dodging well-meant criticism. A pat-on-the-back workshop this ain’t. ‘Our group is made up of very capable women who for the most part are part of the professional art world. Other than that, we are burning to make exciting and diverse artworks and have a good time doing so.’ 

‘Erogenous Zone’ is on until 19th May 2013 at Galerie Körnerpark


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