May 15 – July 15, 2009

“The power of men is, first of all, a metaphysical assertion of themselves, an I am, that exists a priori, unshakeable, absolute. It doesn’t need a glossing over or justification, is ignorant against each denial, each doubt. It shows self-evident authority.” With these words the American feminist Andrea Dworkin starts her bitter-painful and angry reckoning of pornography. Here the phallus appears aggressively and the outcome of the book (Pornography, 1979) ignited the discussion about the cultural construction and establishment of gender roles within pornography.

It was in the same year when Judy Chicago first showed her work Dinner Party, created in collaborative handscrafts: a huge, triangular table, place settings which were dedicated to 39 women. The porcellan plates looked like flowers, but represented the female genitalia, to memorize the forgotten and undervalued work of women. However, the artpiece provoked not only conservative critics, but reservations were also expressed from the feminist side. From a feminist perspective the problem with Chicago’s artwork was the biological definition of femininity – instead of seeing gender identity as a historical and social construction, it was abridged in the image of the vulva.

Genitals are apparently a delicate affair, either way.

The phallus is a powerful symbol and in the system of male dominance, as always, it is the main actor: For thousands of years it has been admired – right or wrong – as a fertility symbol, celebrated in many cultures, carried around, garlanded with flowers, dressed up, lengthened, artificially enhanced and used in various ways. As a shiny permanent erection it is staged advantageously, and asks for attention whenever it can. The erected penis is the main character in most stories, takes what it wants and anyway it likes. It is loved and hated, admired and feared, worshiped and severed, but very seldom appreciated because of its own aestetic values.

In the earnest celebration of Markus Karstiess’ ceramic objects you can find the reflection of this old worship. Varnished silver, polished like shimmering bronze, glinting golden or dull-grey like lead the elongated sculptures are standing around, leaning in one or the other direction, sharply running to a point or staying spherical, comfortably spread out or thin as a rake, always vigorous. The hand-formed glazed clayworks, says the artist, weren’t meant to become phalli, “it only happened while working”. The material in his hands had shaped itself into that form.

Anyhow, it remains a mystery: The Cocks & Tails-Pieces can not be read as simple minimalistic sculptures, one can not easily ignore or suppress the associations. Including a certain delight. The physical presence of the long things and their material, their living surfaces and the visible signs of handcraft make them alluring in an almost physical way. How much would one like to touch the objects, to follow the process of their creation? If they wouldn’t remind us of a penis then eventually it would be easier to admit to this desire.

Luckily, touching is not allowed at an art exhibition. Because of the pedestals, where the multicoloured phallic objects stand, the presentation is clear: transforming the strong penis into an object of art, whose beauty arises from this naturelike appearance, created by the interaction of shape, colour and material. The phallus stands alone on a pedestal now, its pressed wildness is taken up with the artificial object. The imperfect beauty of the erection turned into artwork, “nature” has been transformed into culture again.

Katja Behrens May 2009