West Flips the Voyeristic Gaze in her Six Month Dashboard Residency
In fall 2019, the Atlanta-based organization, Dashboard, chose ceramics faculty Christina West as their inaugural “South Dwntn” artist-in-residence. The residency is housed in their newly-acquired space on Mitchell Street.
“Looking at a Naked Man,” which opened earlier this year, is part-installation, and part look into West’s work process, through which she has been recently experimenting with video. All work—sculptural, video, architectural—was made and filmed on site and serves to emphasize the “the act of looking as it is about the subject of our gaze.” The exposed beams and bare plywood walls that form a maze the viewer walks through, feels metaphorical for an exhibition in which West is pulling back the curtain on the ways her practice examine’s the vulnerable, naked body (in this case, the male).
Shortly after the opening, the exhibition had to close to the public, but viewers can still access the work virtually on Dashboard’s website. Additionally, BURNAWAY published a review on the show that draws a parallel between West’s work and the ideation of the ancient classical, form:
“This shift in focus from the traditionally male viewer-auteur to the male viewed subject is a timely recalibration of art history’s long-held and still-dominant male gaze. Yet Looking at a Naked Man also remains in dialogue with the centuries-old art school practice of drawing from male life-models—a practice from which the academy excluded women artists into the twentieth century—that traces its lineage back to classical Greece and Rome and those cultures’ privileging of the masculine form. Though any act of looking at (and representing) a naked man might in this sense be considered classical—and perhaps therefore traditionalist—I am interested in the playful and subversive ways in which West uses the art and myth of ancient Greece and Rome both to unpack the performance of male identity (or of any gender) and to challenge our complicity in that performance by exposing the absurdities and anxieties of our own act of looking.”
Christina West’s Artist Statement:
I create site-sensitive, immersive installations that use the sculptural human figure and the alteration of architectural space to create environments that engage viewers as both voyeur and subject. Thinking of the built environment as a kind of stage—one that frames the act of looking and contours how we understand ourselves and others—I consider space cinematically, directing viewers through spaces in ways that foreshadow, build anticipation, and control viewing angles the way one might change a camera angle or crop an image. In my installations, it is common for mirrors, video feeds, or openings cut through walls to implicate viewers into the work in a visually explicit way, conflating the roles of actor and audience and disrupting the illusion of an omnipotent one-sided gaze.
My most recent installation, titled Looking at a Naked Man, includes my first foray into video work made during multiple sessions with one male model. Flipping the trope of “woman as image, man as bearer of the look” discussed by Laura Mulvey in her seminal article “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema,” these videos convey unabashed pleasure in observation of the cis-male body from a female perspective as I directed the model to perform a range of mundane activities that convey vulnerability with strength and beauty with awkwardness. The presentation of these videos ultimately informed how I altered the space, creating an experience that engaged the viewer’s own body and created a hyper-awareness of the act of looking.