Do you remember 2014, when Art Basel reached peak internet virility after Usher charged his phone using just the power of the female sexual organ? At the time, artist Lena Marquise gave New Times a cryptic interview about the performance piece, Body as Commodity. Three years later, she hopes to dispel some of the misconceptions about her work through her installation Vagina Chapel at Satellite Art Show.
"The viral incident left me feeling dehumanized pretty instantly," Marquise tells New Times. "The focus was completely lost, spotlighting Usher as the person doing the action, and away from me. As the artist, I was disembodied."
She points out the irony in prioritizing a man's interaction with Marquise's body over the woman herself with regards to a work that celebrates female sexuality. "I thought it was pretty misogynistic — focusing on the dude, the celebrity, when the whole piece was about how women’s bodies are used and how that can or cannot be a bad thing depending on how you interact [with the body],” she says. In this regard, she says, the media proved her point.
Inspired by the Rothko Chapel, Vagina Chapel will present one of Marquise's signature static sculptures, titled V-Plate. It'll be shown amid her partner Caspar Petéus' color field paintings and benches for viewers to contemplate the plate. Marquise says she hopes the experience inspires viewers to think about their own femininity, gender identity, sexuality, and even faith in silence, characteristic of a sacred space.
The plate itself is extremely small, and its sterile blue and white coloring is intentional; it's part of the artist's project of desexualizing the vagina. In her statement for this piece, she writes, "In order to end objectification, we must disembody our fear of the body, and re-create it as an object of worship outside of ourselves."
With the fragility of a medieval religious relic, V-Plate frames the vagina with a distant holiness; one could interpret the circle of light around it as a halo. As a direct response to the visceral imagery of Body as Commodity, Vagina Chapel, with the alternate title Art as Commodity, is an elevated sequel, one that divorces the vaginal image from social connotation and commodification.
"[Before,] I was using my vagina to prove a theoretical point," she says. "I am now using it literally to sell that point.”
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Marquise cites Georgia O'Keeffe as an artist whose work was similarly misinterpreted. While O'Keeffe's flowers were construed as vaginal, Marquise emphasizes the artist sought to be taken literally. Marquise's work is explicitly vaginal, and she also wants it taken literally. "I didn't want anyone to misinterpret this one," she says.
She hopes her chapel will help viewers embrace and liberate parts of themselves that our society deems shameful and find "clarity within themselves."
"My work generally focuses on trying to get people to accept things that people don’t want to talk about, even to themselves,” Marquise says. "This might provide some silent solace."
Vagina Chapel. At Satellite Art Show Thursday, December 7, through Sunday, December 10, at the Ocean Terrace Hotel, 7410 Ocean Ter., Second Floor, Booth 207, Miami Beach; satellite-show.com. Admission to Satellite costs $20 to $60.