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Amber Forest

Lisa Nigro


Mixed Media Installation
Austin, TX

15’ x 13’ x 10’
cardboard tubes, latex, wax

A comic commentary on sexuality and gender issues in American culture — This installation, like Feedher, plays on people’s obsessions with body image. Yet, through the use of both playfulness and fear, a reflection upon the human body’s aging process is more heavily emphasized. Unlike the Feedher, this work presents a duality between sagging (latex) breasts and phalluses and condoms, and speaks of the devaluing of the aged by society. The installation is assembled in a manner which is conducive to movement under and through a stalactite and stalagmite landscape, so that I may channel the action of the viewer in this surreal moment of erection and flaccidity. These standing breasts screech out in contradiction to their penis-like erectness. The hanging breasts also signify the emptying of female fertility, and stress the decline of sexual life and its purposes. The environment thus implies a gradual loss of all life. I intended for the viewer to wade through this Amber Forest, so that the smell and texture of the latex would overpower their senses. Simple rigid structures obstruct the viewer’s path while soft saggy formations sway into their faces. The feminine and masculine are merged to form both the vulnerable and rigid.

Laura Cottingham notes that, “for Kant, woman, like nature, is a passive thing, an object disavowed of subjective autonomy, except for her ‘purposes,’ by which we must assume he meant childbearing and sexual attractiveness (to the male). As an object or a landscape, not person, she/woman is referred to [by Kant] as ‘That.’” Although woman is projected as a landscape form in this Amber Forest, the experience of the installation cancels a possible affirmation of Kant’s thinking, and therefore contradicts the objectification of woman. The female has been joined with the male in a surreal manner. The breast has been divorced of its lactating abilities and suggests age. Breast = Phallus and Phallus = Breast, but neither can ejaculate or leak. This indirectly places the possessors of each organ on equal terms. Neither is presented as attractive nor displayed for the appreciation of its “purposes” only. The piece separates woman from “childbearing” and man from “childgiving.” Both sexes are presented as passive.

In order to build this piece, I made breast casts from women of all ages. This was an intimate and interesting experience, for each woman came to my studio with her own individual attitude. Some were nervous about exposing their breasts to me for the casting; others knew me well enough to feel quite comfortable. The conversations also varied with each individual during the “procedure,” which made me feel like some kind of strange doctor trying to fix a “broken breast.” My varying responses and feelings toward each woman and the unique experiences I had with them worked as a catalyst in forming a questionnaire for these women that asked how they felt about the experience, what they thought about the installation I was creating, and what kind of feelings they have toward breasts and people’s obsessions with them.

Once I obtained the breast casts, I pulled a positive wax form that was identical to the original breast. This positive was then attached to a cardboard tube and covered with additional wax; the result was a fluid, yet stiff phallus that still maintained the breast’s form. I then applied six coats of latex to the outside of this phallic form, let each coat dry, and rolled the latex off, thus creating the second element of the installation, the long and sagging breast-condoms. My use of latex as a medium in this piece was influenced by many of the works of Eva Hesse.

Jacques Lacan spoke of the phallus as symbolizing the power of masculinity and how its absence evokes fear; this leads me to ponder how the Amber Forest’s reference to a presence of the penis in combination with the breast forms might affect my audience. I have given a female for the power of a “prick.” This ambiguous notion is probably unfathomable for some viewers and highly entertaining for others. So, why shouldn’t we acknowledge the similarities between breasts and penises? In the presence of either, the feeling of power – and fear – is often projected on to these organs. One only needs to be reminded of the power of advertising – and its use of cleavage; and the fear of rape – which can only be performed by a “dick.” 

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