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‘Sometimes a Kiss Is… Not Just a Kiss’

Thomasin Sleigh

Visual Arts


For Sandy Gibbs’ exhibition Sometimes a kiss is…not just a kiss, Enjoy is bathed in a soft pinkish light. Long baby pink curtains hang across the windows and fall softly to the floor. It is a bit like being in a womb, or that movie where the explorers get shrunk down to a miniscule size and voyage around inside a human body. They get attacked by viruses and drowned in food and liquid and that sort of thing. Luckily enough, this didn’t happen when I was at Enjoy but there is the sense of being trapped inside something living, and you suddenly become very separated from the outside world pottering about on Cuba Street.
Across the back wall a large projection shows a man and a woman dressed in stereotypical cowboy outfits riding what must be mechanical rodeo machines. Their expressions are strangely serene. They are concentrating very diligently on their pursuit. Their lower halves are cut off however and we can only see the writhing motion of their torsos, flung around the space. Divorced from the apparatus which causes their bizarre gyrating, their movements take on new meanings. It is like a weird dance, at moments they mirror each other, then they move away. Man on one side, woman on the other, they seem to both attract and repel each other. It is a slightly sexual display of interest and courtship.
Gibbs’ exhibition examines the interplay of the sexes, the distinctions between them and the more uncertain ground where clear boundaries slip away and sexual identity becomes ambiguous and unclear. The plump, round beanbag-like object in front of the projection takes its ambiguity very seriously. Pink, dimpled, and spouting water out of its center, the object is very sexually suggestive but it is not immediately evident why. The texture of the material is like some sort of dodgy sex toy but this is subverted by its child-like shade of pink, and the gentle tinkle of the water which flows from it. The sexuality and innocence of this object sit uncomfortably with each other, and it is this juxtaposition that characterizes the other works in the show as well.
Opposite the large projection on the back wall is a smaller DVD depicting a montage of scenes taken from TV and popular culture. There are shots of a male strip show; men are surrounded by crowds of clapping women, laughing and at times looking a little uncomfortable. The dancing men are bizarrely reduced to their simple aesthetics. Bronzed and muscular, dressed in these extraordinary leafy thongs, they are only objects to behold.
When watching this ritual objectification of willing subjects, the supposedly sexy unravels and becomes devastatingly unsexy. Gibbs takes a step back from the practices which shape and define sexuality and reduces them to their bare essentials; their almost animalistic fundamentals. On the DVD other images are cut amongst the male strippers and body builders, and they serve to accentuate this unrealistic and hyped up display of sexuality. There is the recurring image of stags in the wilderness. These are noble, beautiful creatures, portrayed as symbols of strength and power. Also, with their stature and phallic horns they are overtly masculine. Shown immediately next to these shots are images of a hunter, complete with large phallic gun, patrolling the countryside, searching for prey. Gibbs juxtaposes these images carefully to suggest that even masculine power and potency are capable of being reduced and subverted.
The DVD is constantly toying with this subversion of power, undercutting images of masculine authority to reveal them for what they really are; subjective constructions which have only a tentative relationship with reality. The stag can easily fall victim to the hunter. The male bodybuilders, instead of being symbols of ubermasculinity, become fetishlike objects ready to be owned and manipulated.
There is a moment of real disquiet in this montage of scenes. A small boy comes up to a large empty swimming pool. It gapes before him. He stands on the diving board and bounces a little, like he is about to spring into the concrete mass. At the last minute his Dad comes up and stops him, takes him down and berates him for being so careless. Then he leaves and the boy is alone again, but there is the potential lying there that he will simply try it again. The moment examines the vulnerability of the small child. As he doesn’t know any better and could possibly injure himself, and the construction of self through teaching and environment, with the father coming down and dispensing his warning. But it is the last section that is the most interesting. The child is left alone with the pool. He now has the choice of whether to simply re-enact his former mistake or to take on the knowledge that he has been given. There is the disquieting contrast between his vulnerable childlike state and the small decision which he able to make, and the certain power that he is still able to exert.
Overlaying the whole show are the gentle strains of a piece of classical music by Haydn. It is as if someone is playing classical music when you go round for dinner at their house, when it is clear that they never would normally. Like other aspects of this show, it is deliberately sugar sweet and forced; a thin veneer of respectability coating these subtle displays of sex, innocence, knowledge, and implied violence.
Enjoy Public Art Gallery
6 – 23rd September