I originally wrote this post for Stedelijk Journal and thought I’d share it here for this month’s Artsy Hufflehoe
Thus begins Female figure by Jordan Wolfson, just before “Applause” by Lady Gaga starts playing. According to Wolfson, the robotic figure is a sexual object and the work addresses “the violence of objectification”. Without being aware of this, the viewer can already feel it when standing in the gallery with the robot.
She is a blonde woman dressed as a hypersexualized pop star: she wears a semitransparent skirt through which her underwear is visible, thigh-high boots, and long gloves. She is completely in white, the color of virginity. Her body appears dirty, but the reason for this is unknown. Her face is concealed by a mask of a witch’s face — this symbolizes infertility, according to Wolfson, while the movements her body makes simply scream fertility.
Because her face is hidden, it feels as if the mask
makes her more of an
object rather than a person.
She is attached to a pole — as if it forces her to keep dancing. Even when no music is playing and she addresses the audience, she continues to dance. From behind the mask, her eyes constantly follow the crowd in the room, unnerving the viewer. She is fixed in place, and her audience cannot leave. She is continuously “performing” for the public. And, as a spectator, the viewer can do nothing.
When “Applause” finishes, she begins to whisper a monologue in which she says, among other things, “I’ll have sex with you, but that’s not my calling”. This capitalizes on the idea that women only exist to satisfy men. She constantly asks what to say, and repeats the words that were said by a man (Wolfson’s voice): “Touch is hate. Say feeling love. Touch is love”. She embodies the utmost submissiveness, just as women are also still often seen today. She says, “This is my house”, but in her own home she has nothing to say and is unable to leave.
During the “performance”, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” also plays, a song that became controversial as a result of lyrics that seem to condone or downplay rape. The words “touch is hate” could indicate this as well. Victims of rape often have difficulty with being touched.
She continues to repeat her dance moves. She is, of course, a robot that is perhaps incapable of performing many steps, but this can also be interpreted as a woman who is constantly forced to perform — to seduce men and to please them — but she is weary and hapless.
While Wolfson himself has said that Female figure is about the “objectification” of women, the observations given here are naturally my own interpretation. The emotions and ideas behind the choices Wolfson has made came to me when I saw the artwork. Perhaps the witch mask only stands for infertility, and the words “touch is hate” might have nothing to do with rape. Others may interpret the work differently, of course. Is Female figure really an effective way to expose “the violence and objectification”? When you are alone or with a group in the room with her, I think you will feel uncomfortable. Therefore, the message is still communicated, but whether the work can help put an end to “objectification” is another question entirely.