If you were expecting a Christmas grotto, you’ve come to the wrong place. Julie Verhoeven’s new installation in the ICA Reading Room - a self described ‘visual grotto of excess’ - couldn’t be further from the sparkle of festive cheer. And thank God.
Repulsive and fabulous in equal measure, this is a hideous bombardment of colour, sound and genitalia that delights from start to finish. The room itself is pokey, entered down a couple of steps that make it feel more like a cramped bunker than an open gallery space. The noise moves around the room in a tinny, overbearing way and the space quickly becomes cramped with visitors navigating their way past each other and around various droopy fabric body parts. There is a level of griminess on the surfaces that are reminiscent of the resin dripped works of Ed and Nancy Kienholz, creating a dirty, camp spectacular that’s fun, engrossing and a little bit repulsive.
Verhoeven’s experience as a designer shines through, with fleshy fabrics formed into swelled body parts, and spangly body stockings hung from the ceiling like lifeless nu ravers. Unlike many creatives who have been heavily involved with the fashion industry, there is no desire to make things slick, and her signature art style of slapdash design and sewing are a perfect fit.
The feminist message here is loud and proud. Brash vaginal sculptures, phallic objects and items reminiscent of tampons and condoms are tired images within feminist art now, but they are used here with such intensity that a surprisingly original aesthetic is formed. It’s not about the images by themselves, but the pure spectacle of everything crammed together. The music is treated with similar cacophony, with school disco tracks pumped out for ten seconds before clumsily clunking over to the next track. It’s a big explosion of pop femininity, and all the sugar coated, sexed up sleaze that comes with it.
This installation has been created around a new film, which peers out from tv screens around the room, shoved behind toilet seats and surrounded by gigantic pink mounds. The film offers a smoother finish to the pumped up glitz of the room itself, with teasing shots of body parts and seductive glances. It has a vibe that is similar to Marina Abramovic’s early video work, questioning the strength and inherent vulnerability of female sexuality.
While there is a stronger message at work here, the show can be engaged with on many levels. The tongue in cheek humour is there to be enjoyed, it is feel good art hiding a deeper topic in its’ highlighter pink folds. Verhoeven is enthused about the fun side of the show, and without it this may fall a bit flat, it is not only a showing up of female pop sexuality, but also somewhat of a reclaiming and embracing of it.
Julie Verhoeven: Whiskers Between My Legs will be running until January 18th 2015 at ICA, The Mall London SW1Y 5AH
Words by Emily Steer