Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Monday, 2 September 2013

A E I O U - Joe Tilson

Joe Tilson, A E I O U, 1970, printed papers on screenprint on paper, 740 x 489 mm, Tate.

More from the Tate's collection of Joe Tilson screenprints, which is so enormous that if laid end-to-end, would comfortably wrap around the world several times.  Here, Tilson provides us with some sexy vowels, as in the noises a lady might make when touched by a young, virile pop artist, with the shapes of the letters mirrored in anatomy.  Whereas most of the points of similarity are obvious, there are some subtleties here, witty in a swingin' sexist sixties way.  The 'e' of the woman's nipple, for instance, does not reflect the capital letter below it, but the absent lower-case, while 'U' is tied to the black hairs of the male palm that explores the female body.  And what's going on in the top half of the image?  Failed attempts to write the letters, or a map of particularly touchable areas of skin?
   It's easy to write this off as dated, Austin Powers nonsense, but there's an analytical detachment in Tilson's work that suggests he's exploring the semiotics of the body, that is, how it is presented in the media of the day, rather than simply fiddling about with one.

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