Monday, June 26, 2006

Flor Garduno Photo Exhibit - Sex As The Mean Of Life

Richard Nilsen
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 25, 2006 12:00 AM There is sex and there is sex.

On one hand there is the Hollywood version, all titillation and emptiness; on the other there is the sex that is the single genetic reason for existence, mysterious and gravid.

This is the sex that ripens in Mexican artist Flor Garduño's photographs, on view in the show "Inner Light" at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

The show comprises 61 photographs, mostly of women and most of whom are nude. But they are not the standard nude women we recognize from most such photography.

When men photograph nude women, it is almost always to create images of desire. The women are looked upon with delectation. Garduño's women are images of identification: She sees her own life as a woman reflected in her models. What is more, it is her life as universal life, writ large as the model of all life. It contains multitudes.

In other words, this is not sex as men imagine it, but as women experience it. Not as a moment of temporary satisfaction, but as a process from birth to parenthood to death. This is sex not as entertainment, but as the central mystery of being alive.

It is the flower that is the single most potent cultural symbol of this process: from bud to blossom to fruit to seed. The flower dies, reborn in the next generation, a continuous process of nature, each generation growing out of the last like the tender shoots of grass growing out of the folded leaves below it.

This is a process seen in Garduño's photographs, not as some abstract idea but as the juicy, pulpy, sticky and delicious process it is.

The photographs feature a number of surprising female analogues. Among the forms of yoni included are a giant millstone with a hole in the center, a cacao pod in an oval bowl and a painting of a pear with a coin slot in its side.

Some, such as the flowers, are more obvious, but for Garduño, anything that folds open may be a metaphor for the female organ, even books, which appear twice, once floating on a pond like a water lily, and once as a funeral stone. In another, it is a hinged mold for making chocolate fish.

Many of the photographs are in pairs, such as the books, although they are displayed apart from each other, as if to prevent our seeing them as obvious diptychs. One is of a nude woman on a carved wooden jaguar; another of a pregnant woman on the same jaguar. They are both splayed over the carving like a Mayan sacrifice on a chac mool. (Chac mool is said to be Mayan for "red jaguar," and sex, in this light, is the sacrifice - men often forget that every time a woman has sex, she risks death in childbirth.)

Among the pairs is one photograph of a young girl in a metal-frame dress form, as if imprisoned by the shape she will grow into; another is of a grown woman inside the same cage form. One of a ripe pear with a wedge sliced out, leaving a yonic slit; another of a split pomegranate, its seed spilling out.

One cannot but recall D.H. Lawrence writing about the "wonderful moist conductivity towards the center," in his poem Figs.

Crows appear in duplicate, as do doves. Huge banana leaves, in the vulvar shape of the mandorla, abound, as do the jack-in-the-pulpit spadix and spathe - the not-so-subtle phallus and yoni - of the ceriman plant, or Monstera deliciosa, called piñanona in Mexico and titled such here.

There is a good deal of wit in these photos, and some genuine humor - a plate of nipple-ended lemons is a scream. And the wit helps dispel any fear of lingering New-Agey solemnity that might have made the show ponderous and preachy.

It is not; it is an example of the best sort of thing art can do: provide metaphors for the unavoidable processes of life, illuminating them and giving them a kind of mythic gravity.

But although you may smile at some of the images, the show is essentially serious: This is life, Garduño is saying, and we all participate.

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