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What Are You Looking At?
Allyson Clay and Eliza Griffiths, Encounters with the Gaze
Eliza Griffiths, Need for Speed
In Need for Speed
(2001) and Super Bird
(2002), the male character has been replaced by a car. In the latter, the inclusion of the top of a head at the lower edge of the canvas, a piece of hair stuck in the frosty lipstick of the woman, alludes to the male figure. Dogs copulating mid-ground provide the narrative element. Griffiths walks a fine line between maintaining and transgressing the status quo: it is not readily apparent whether she is actually subverting systems of representation or simply employing bad girl motifs.
Eliza Griffiths, Super Bird
While she succeeds in shifting the gaze away from the Cartesian dualism of the subject/object, male/female relationship, in my opinion she fails to transcend it. Griffiths’ redirection of the gaze and exchange of gender signifiers alerts the viewer to the masquerade of gender and constructs of desire. However, Griffiths’ repeated use of emblems of sexism and machismo, such as women’s breasts (whether blatantly or through transparent fabrics), fast cars, scars, bruises and booze, approaches cliché, begging one to question the depth to which she investigates female desire. As Lucy Lippard notes in Griselda Pollock’s article,1
What’s wrong with images of women, it is a subtle abyss that separates men’s use of women for sexual titillation from a women’s use of women to expose that insult. In Griffiths’ attempt to represent female desire, does female desire end up masquerading as masculine? Surely there is more complexity to women’s desire than to assume a masculine subject position with its attendant voyeuristic and fetishistic viewing practices. Griffiths’ use of the car, a symbol generally associated with masculine virility, and the titillation provided by breasts and allusions to genitalia, seems limited as an attempt to inscribe her own desire.
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1. Grisleda Pollock, “What’s Wrong with Images of Women?” in Looking On: Images of Femininity in the Visual Arts and Media, ed. R. Betterton (London: Pandora Press, 1987), 49.