ALL THE WO/MEN I AM
Fine art pigment print on premium photo luster paper, series of 366 works, each 48,3 x 32,9 cm. Edition 5 + 3AP. 2016-2018
Song Jing's works have always dealt with perception of failure, pain, hope and love, both as cause and consequence. At the same time, the layers of time, and their shifts, are a dimension of crucial importance for the artist to express such experiences. These are based on emotions and a fluctuating corporeity more specifically connected to the female cycle. Her work comprises of large series of images that she explores by taking motifs from the landscape and nature to approach such themes.
In the series presented here, she goes over the shape of date kernels, which called her attention while she was eating a date. She started collecting the kernels of the dates she ate, until she had hundreds of them. Her next action was to photograph each of them in large scale, in the very same size. She made use of a photolab structure that enabled her to shoot the kernels in such a way that their shadows on the white background surface were erased. This was not achieved by the use of correcting or erasing tools in a digital manipulation of the photos but by photographing all the kernels under exactly the same lighting conditions, with the very same white background. The result is a series of 366 of what seems to be identical photos of date kernels displayed side by side in rows, on the wall.
Seen from a distance, they look quite like abstract shapes. However, once we come closer to the wall, we realize that these shapes are not identical, and that they are very organic. The artist chose to show the side of the kernels with a crack, which gives them even more evocative shapes. One might think of pebbles or shells but they are also suggestive of women's genitalia.
“ALL THE WO/MEN I AM” is referring to the constraints of being a woman and having to follow the patterns and standards imposed by a male-dominated and sexist society that tends to objectify women and control their means of expression, particularly their sexuality. In the photos shown here, although their individual, peculiar features are enhanced once we see them from up close, the idea that one could create a single model out of them from a distance is quite tempting. Thus, these fairly abstracted objects that remind us of women's genitalia make us reflect on the many controlled patterns of sex, starting with the physical one. In Western art tradition, the depiction of women's sex and genitalia has always been out of the question, for an art concerned with the ideals of beauty could not be “stained” by elements of nature, including the human figure, that would not succeed in capturing it. A beautiful woman’s body was then, above all, a passive object of men's desire, and most importantly, her sex was always hidden, or rendered in a very abstract way, for it somehow belonged to the earthly world and the vulgar.
A very sarcastic and critical contemporary comics, Der Ursprung der Welt, by Liv Strömquist, actually approaches this issue and recopilates the so-called “primitive” and ancient images of female figures and their accentuated and very marked genitalia. While looking at such images, the fact that they render woman genitalia in a variety of shapes is a particular feature that is also Jing's concern in her series. Actually, there is no precise pattern or model of how a vulva should look like. This is also quite true with the date kernels, as they vary in crack, colour or shape.
In the world today, we have been witnessing a huge advance in plastic surgery techniques, notably those that can enhance and perfect the female body. One of the most recent interventions a woman can presently undergo is vulva plastic surgery, to make it look “more beautiful”.
“ALL THE WO/MEN I AM” is a remarkably powerful work as it questions conventions about being a woman, as well as about the woman's body and sexuality.
© Ana Magalhães, 2018
Art historian, curator and professor of the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, Brazil