DICKIE FANTASTIC

'Volvos aren't just there to be lusted after by men'
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Indy Lifestyle Online
One time, not so long ago, I was invited to attend the opening night of an "assertively non-pornographic" photography exhibition of extreme close-ups of women's vulvas. Unfortunately, I'd only just got home from my holidays, and in my jet-lagged haze I thought that the PR woman was talking about an exhibition of women's Volvos. Consequently, a muddled conversation ensued where she had to spend 20 minutes convincing me that Volvos WERE sometimes considered pornographic and that it WAS vital to explode that particular myth.

"Volvos aren't just there to be lusted after by men," I heard her say.

"I personally have NEVER found them attractive," I replied. "Ah, human sexuality is such a mystery to me."

"Well," she said, "you surprise me. Most men do."

It was only after I turned down the invitation that I pondered upon the conversation, deciphered the confusion and kicked myself for missing such a magical opportunity. So tonight as I walk with a spring in my step towards an exhibition in King's Cross entitled "57 Varieties of Fetishism and Hysteria", I am especially keen. I am not even put off by the rather stern sub-title, "A Domesticated Depiction of the Master / Slave Dialectic", which could, of course, set alarm bells ringing in more hostile minds. No. This is to be a special night - a night which (as the press release promises) "addresses 'the look' as a dichotomy of the libidinal investment: voyeuristic gratification vs critical objectivity", which, as trade-offs go, is fine by me.

The opening night is taking place in two simultaneous locations: a small art gallery on Pentonville Road and a pub around the corner on Caledonian Road. I arrive first at the pub, which is empty save for a couple of old men, a few teenagers playing pinball and an intense-looking youngster setting up a slide projector in the corner. I take him to be the artist and approach him to say hello.

"What's it all about then?" I ask.

"Ah," he says. "You're here for the show?"

"The Triptych of Visual Aphorism?" I ask, just making sure. "Fetishism and hysteria?"

"Yes," he says. "Listen. The slide projector isn't quite working. Maybe you could come back later?"

"OK," I say. I walk to the second site. On the way I examine - for clues - the press release once more. It begins with a quote: "Fetishism and hysteria bring about the transfiguration of the commodity as the object of desire becomes the commodification of objective desire" - signed "a former King's Cross prostitute". Well, I ponder lazily to myself, I bet she never put that on her cards in the phone-boxes. I arrive at the gallery to discover that the place is entirely empty, save for a handful of profound- looking youngsters.

"Yes," says one. "The press release. It's very..."

"Excessive?" I say.

"Provocative," she replies.

"So I take it the exhibition's been cancelled," I say.

"Oh no," she says. "Look."

She points to the corner where two tiny video monitors have been set up. Oneshows looped archive footage of a woman slapping another woman. Another shows a woman being spanked, intercut with angry-looking Chinese people.

"Ah," I say. "Ah ha."

"Mmm," says another man.

"Yes," says a third. "Ah, yes."

"You must go to the basement," I am told. "There is more."

In the basement, three images are projected on to the wall: a woman's hands drawing something; a man's hands shaking; and a woman just sitting there looking upset.

"What's she drawing?" I ask someone, who turns out to be Ali, the artist.

"A vulva," she replies. "But look. She keeps getting it wrong, so she has to start again."

"Ah," I say.

"You see now?" she says.

"Yes," I say. "Ah ha."

And back at the pub they still haven't got the slide projector to work, so I play the fruit machine for a bit and go home.

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