FLANDERS' photographs of feminine archetypes peeing while standing up
playfully and provocatively comment on cultural constructions of gender,
while her photographs of vaginas with mandalas nestled inside add
nuance to the political by introducing the possibility of relating to
the vagina as a site of the sacred. Becky received her MFA in Studio Art
from the University of South Florida in Tampa. In 2013, her work was
included in the group exhibitions Post Coital at Mindy Solomon Gallery (St. Petersburg, Florida), Subversive Narratives at Balzer Art Projects (Basel Switzerland) and Ransom at Wayfarers (Brooklyn). Becky lives and works in Tampa, Florida, where she owns the Mermaid Tavern with her partner and is in the process of renovating an abandoned, mid-century warehouse to house artist studios and workshops.
OtherPeoplesPixels: In general, do men and women respond differently to your work?
The work definitely sparks a lot of dialog about conceptions of gender,
sex and bodies. I especially love when the work opens the door to
talking openly about female genitalia and the way women touch, interact
with and relate to their bodies. While it’s no longer a Victorian-level
taboo subject, it’s still not so often broached, particularly in a
professional situation or with complete strangers. I love it when people
I’ve just met tell me interesting stories about touching themselves now
and as children, birth control mishaps, squirting, bathroom politics,
personal gender gripes, the shape and size of their labia or, if they’re
trans, what exactly they have in their pants and how they feel about
I get objections to the work from both sexes, but truly
more often from women who feel that the work is somehow a debasement or a
betrayal of the feminine. I’ve never felt that the act of exposing any
part of my body was ever giving anything away or taking anything away
from me, but some women feel disturbed by the exposure. Some think that
it is a rejection or a cheapening of femininity. Some reject it as being
too second wave, but they’re missing my point. One of my most basic
goals is to expand and refine the conception of the feminine to include
my own experience of it. I’ve always felt like a gender outsider, and
yet I’m happy with my body and very comfortable in my skin. I know I’m
not alone in that.
With men, it runs the gamut as well. There are always people who want to poke holes in anything feminist, and I’ll debate with them. But if people are into my work because they are turned on by it, that’s fine, too. It’s not my explicit goal to turn people on sexually—although I’ve considered making porn-related work at some point in the future. But now, I want the work to be luscious and titillating in a broader sense. The sexual is sacred to me and that is part of it.
OPP: In almost all of your Female Standing Urination
photographs, the face of the figure is either off camera or masked.
Sometimes it's a result of the angle of view, as in pieces like Stomach (2013), or the photograph is a close-up, as in Methods 1, 2, and 3. But then there are studio shots like Pan, Egypt, and Venus of Willendorf. Was your choice to mask the peeing figure a practical or conceptual decision, or both?
That choice initially arose from my irresistible desire to mask my own
face and faces in general. It’s like the seventh veil. Growing up, I
always felt more social anxiety about the exposure of my face than that
of my body. Facial expressions have never come naturally to me. They are
willful, conscious, often painstaking acts. On the contrary, sex and
nudity comprise a space in which I could remain naturally blank-faced,
yet not invisible or abject. That space has always been a palliative. As
a young person, it was a real confidence booster, almost therapeutic.
But conceptually, the face is a site of the dispute of power. We cannot even legally mask our faces in public now. Facial expressions are daily acts of submission or resistance, a daily game in a culture of spectacle and persona. I always fantasized about being free from this, wandering in public like a ghost. In the work, I wanted to contend with the realm of the body, separate from this facial dialog. I want to consider the figures as archetypes, icons, goddesses. They are not specific individuals.They are platonic forms, abstractions.
OPP: I assume
that the peeing figure is you, but the identity doesn't matter in terms
of the content. Still, it makes me curious about the practical concerns
involved in these photographs. Part of the implication of the entire
series is that it isn't that difficult for a woman to pee standing up.
But is it difficult to photograph?
BF: Yes, it’s
usually me, mostly because I prefer to work alone, without communicating
verbally or directing as part of my process. And no, it’s not difficult
to pee standing, though you should practice in the shower first to
learn how not to drip. Though if you have trepidations about touching
yourself, you might be out of luck.
Some of them are
exceedingly difficult to photograph because I am both in front of and
behind the camera. This is important both conceptually and practically
for me. I’ve sometimes worked with another photographer, or an assistant
to help carry equipment through the swamps and look out for park
rangers. But my ideal shooting situation is alone in the studio with a
set that I can manipulate slowly and take my time on. I shoot with a
Toyo 4x5 field camera, and I use a cable release, which is the only
thing I’m not hesitant to remove from the shots in post production. I
often take a lot of polaroids to perfect the setup, and position myself
within the shot.
The first person perspective photographs of the Omniscient Sadistic Fantasies series (Heart, Mirror, Stomach, Baby) are the most difficult to shoot because I’m basically trying to put my body in the same location as the gigantic tripod and camera, and none of the equipment can get into the shot. The camera must go where my head should be, and my head is bent backwards and off to the side. This is uncomfortable, and I can’t see where I am aiming. The cable release goes in my mouth because my hands are busy in the shot. It takes a lot of concentration and multitasking. Also, I have to constantly drink water and take vitamins to keep the pee somewhat yellow. I had to learn how to tolerate impartially emptying my bladder over and over again for hours at a time. It’s kind of fun actually. When I’m in the zone, I can’t even feel the mosquitoes biting me.
I choose to shoot in film for technical and aesthetic reasons, but I think this process is a good metaphor for a woman’s relationship to her genitalia. It’s “complicated” (not really), tricky to work, sometimes painful, very analog, incredibly performative, and she can’t really see what she is doing without external reflection of some sort.
OPP: In 2012, you did a series of photographs called of Gorgons and Ana Suromai. Each photograph of a vagina with a mandala peeking out from behind the folds of the labia is titled as a numbered Daily Meditation. Could you address the idea of the vagina as a gateway to sacred space?
BF: Think Kali, a creator/destroyer, or Medusa. The gorgons
with actual eyes are both. They might swallow you up or turn you to
stone, they might settle feuds or calm the angry sea. There are
countless fascinating myths about effect of the sight of a vagina.
I think of these photographs as icons, almost in a religious or meditative sense. They represent a platonic aspect of the feminine and consciousness diverted to the genitals rather than the head. There is also a relationship between yoga and meditation and the poses and forms that I use. These images came to me whole; I just had to get them out. I’m always mining mythology and symbolism for content in my work, also history and natural history. It’s not fashionable anymore to work with religions or mythologies other than those you’ve inherited, but I love Joseph Campbell. However the original impetus to do ana-suromai work came from reading The Story of V, A Natural History of Female Sexuality, by Catherine Blackledge. It’s a goldmine of a book.
OPP: Your Hurricane paintings from 2013 broaden the read of the Gorgon and Ana Suromai photographs by drawing visual connections between our personal experiences of our bodies and the bodies of others and our understanding of the larger weather systems on the "body" of this planet. What does the eye of the storm have to do with the vagina?
currently live in Florida. Hurricanes are a reality here. Like the
alligators, you get used to them after a while and may even begin to
feel somewhat fond of their power to destroy. A hurricane is a weather
system that has become so large, so singular that it is given a name. In
Florida, the destructive power of nature is right there in front of you
on a daily basis, along with the extremes of beauty and exhaustion. The
feminine is often equated with nature. Though this is a trope that
feminism has long since rejected, I definitely continue to mine it,
sometimes mockingly, sometimes in earnest. I grew up close to nature,
and it’s dear to me: the wild, the feral, the willful, headless power.
I suppose you could say the hurricanes are another aspect of the gorgons, like a goddess who changes aspect. They are a similar metaphor, and very much a meditation for me to make. I made these drawings during the summertime, when thunderstorms are a daily and powerful occurrence in Florida. They take over the landscape, not only during the 30 minutes of deluge and surface flooding, but also in the aftermath. The summer rainy season is a time of sisyphusean striving to keep nature from swallowing what humans have built. Whether by vines or by mold, leaks or floods, she will eventually have you one way or another.
The drawings are based on photographs taken by satellites. Until relatively recently, it wasn’t possible to see these storms from above. There’s that metaphoric connection to female genitalia: the storm cannot see itself completely unless externally reflected. This also applies to feminine persona in general. The human power to reflect is one of our greatest, like we are the way the earth has of looking back upon herself and reflecting.
OPP: It might appear to the average viewer that your hand-embroidered Aphorisms from Nietsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra were made by another artist, but there's a connection to your photography. What is it?
The work may only be related to the body and feminist pieces in that it
is political and somewhat anarchist, but I suspect there are other
links which will be revealed over time. I’m beginning to explore the
political in a broader sense: the relationship of individuals to the
state, the language of extremism and revolution and Americana and its
symbols and icons. The What is Value?
pieces are also part of this process. The embroideries started with
translations of Nietzsche quotes from a particular chapter in Thus Spoke Zarathustra called “the State,” but I have branched out to other quotes and language, some of which I write, but most of which I gather.
interested here in the language of memes. I studies memetics in the
earlier days of the internet, but it has taken off with the public at
large in recent years. I’m at once fascinated and horrified with the
effect that the conscious use of memetics seems to be having on language
usage and thus on the transmission of thoughts. The current supposed
dividing lines in popular American politics, i.e. the deep polemics of
the right and the left, serve mainly as an obstruction to dialog. They
seem to be a tool created to control thought and keep people divided and
distracted. I think the whole thing is a big charade, and I’m trying to
see through it.
Stitching is more of a commitment than the
posting or sharing of a Facebook meme. The sheer amount of time it takes
to render these texts (about an hour per letter) runs me backwards and
forwards, questioning my belief about the statement. Do I mean it in
earnest, in irony, in nostalgia or sadness, or in a complex combination
of ways? Or perhaps I don’t even “mean” the statement at all, but put it
out for consideration alone and as part of a constellation. It’s an
attempt at grounding.
These pieces are also a bit nostalgic in
terms of their relationship to technology. I sometimes have nightmares
that we are being fog-marched via silicon valley into a
fascist-capital-slavery state (loosely quoting Willie Nelson here), into
a technological age beyond human utility. I am not generally a luddite,
but lately I’m gripped with the feeling that we are speeding into a
progress trap, and I can’t help but attempt a feeble protest with my
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.