In Selling Venus / Vénus au miroir, Winnipeg-based artist Dominique Rey articulates the complex relationship between femininity and spectacle, exposing the fine line between subject and object; public and private. The exhibition, which consists of portraits, a video projection and an attendant essay by Steven Matijcio, documents the lives of exotic dancers working at the Crazy Horse in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Rey also worked as a dancer, and as such, openly addresses and deflates her position as the privileged teller).
The exhibition’s title speaks to Rey’s thoughtful exploration of the relationship between the gaze and the autonomous self. The dominant notion of the singularly objectified female body, and how it gains meaning through circulation in a heterosexual economy, is turned on its head through a complex network of gazes. In the portraits, Rey captures the women as they prepare to perform: whether applying makeup, scrutinizing a small detail, or looking at the finished product, their eyes do not meet the spectator (and importantly, nor do they avert it), but rather focus on themselves, upsetting the subject/object binary.
The video installation, which features conversations with the dancers, mimics a peep-show booth and bathroom, complete with an illuminated mirror (the importance of mirrors in psychoanalytic theory is addressed in the essay) and red overhead lighting. The images, sound and lighting are intermittent, creating powerful pauses in the narration. Here, the spectator is left with nothing to look at but themselves, and is thus forced to consider the link between bodies, sexuality, and gendered space: how the most public of objects are, in many ways, created in the private.
Selling Venus / Vénus au miroir runs until June 9 at Gallery TPW as a part of Contact.
Kendall, 2 years, 2003 courtesy of Gallery TPW