FEATURE STORY JULY/AUG 2022 Tania Ferrier: Pop Porn

Consisting of works drawn from the City of Fremantle Art Collection and new works, Tania Ferrier challenges gender ideals, reimagining women’s bodies from passive, objectified figures to dynamic forms, with humour firmly at its base.

LYN DI CIERO

♦ Tania Ferrier at her studio residency at Fremantle Arts Centre preparing for her exhibition, Pop Porn. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

On show at Fremantle Arts Centre, the City of Fremantle Art Collection presents Tania Ferrier: Pop Porn, with new video and print works along with a survey of her internationally renowned Angry Underwear. The exhibition explores the representation of women in pornography from the 1980s, continuing Ferrier’s decades-long feminist practice, bearing additional currency and weight set within our contemporary times of the #MeToo movement, Grace Tame advocating for survivors of sexual assault, and the recent laws banning abortion in the US.
     
Ferrier’s Angry Underwear was shown at Artemis Gallery in Perth in 1989. Phillip Pendal, the then Shadow Minister for the Arts, called the work obscene, and an inappropriate use of government funding, and the exhibition briefly closed. When it reopened, thousands visited the show, news outlets and talk back shows went into overdrive and the story was covered in national newspapers and magazines.

 

Andre Lipscombe, curator of the City of Fremantle Art Collection, says a lot of the media traction at the time was disparaging. “Mainstream media on TV made light of it, and were making appalling puns and jokes about breasts, and really had no respect for her in terms of her arts practice. I still sense it was a male dominated media.”
 
Ferrier says the first Angry Underwear, provocatively baring shark’s teeth, was made for Angel, a Latino stripper at Wild Fyre men’s club in Brooklyn, New York, where she was working as a bartender in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “One night a customer jumped up on the bar stage and sexually assaulted her on stage. Bouncers came running in and beat him off with a baseball bat. When I went to comfort her afterwards she said, ‘I wish it could bite.’ It was a light bulb moment.”
 
Lipscombe says for people like Angel, there is a sad relationship with mainstream America. “Latinos in the US are treated significantly differently to other people. There are fewer rights, and access to employment and healthcare, so they often find all sorts of underpaid work.”
 
While Ferrier decided bar work wasn’t altogether healthy, her Angry Underwear graduated from the club to become an international media sensation, and an exclusive lingerie store, Enelra, sold Angry Underwear to identities such as Madonna and Naomi Campbell.
 
The curation of Pop Porn will resemble a church, with Ferrier’s photograph of Angel centre stage as an object of adoration. A hidden booth, like a confessional or reminiscent of a peep show, will sit behind the image showing video documentation of Angry Underwear over the years, both from America and Australia, as well as new animations. A series of twelve new prints, based on collages of body parts cut from Playboy centrefolds from the 1980s and 90s, represents the Stations of the Cross, and will be placed facing each other on opposite walls, and Angry Underwear on mannequins will act as the congregation.
 
The exhibition begs the question of how much the objectification of women has changed since Angry Underwear was first conceived. A panel conversation at 6.30pm on 22 September will no doubt flesh out wider conversations on the subject. Ferrier says her daughter is now of a similar age as she was in the late 1980s. “She’s so much more assured of what her rights are,” she says. “She works in the film industry. In the workplace there are signs everywhere that if anything happens, you report it immediately. I was in the film industry when I was younger too, and you certainly never complained otherwise you’d lose your job. The fact that people can speak up and speak out now has changed, but I also know there’s still issues to resolve.”

 

Lipscombe says while the works make humorous acknowledgement of an intersubjective gaze that might exist between women and reimagined porn, through the exhibition Ferrier grants women an active role in retrofitting it. “We have to be reminded human relationships between men and women have to be continually focused upon with sensitivity and empathy, and Tania’s work is going to prompt that conversation again.”
 
Pop Porn is on show at Fremantle Arts Centre from 13 August – 23 October. 

Auteur, 2021, inkjet print on fine art paper, Edition of 30, 80cm x 111cm by Tania Ferrier in Pop Porn at Fremantle Arts Centre.  

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