“Bushrangers, dandies, photos with stings,
these are a few of my favourite things.”
MASCULINITY. It’s a bit of a worry these days. Not quite kosher. The butt of feminist ire and the censure of community values, it is all too often cited as the root of contemporary evils, sometimes rightly so.
Masculinity is not necessarily about being male. It is a set of qualities and values, not a physiological category. It is a construct of culture which, while building on evolutionary foundations, is ultimately an abstraction. And, like all abstractions, it is pliable cognitive material capable of creative fashioning.
Gerwyn Davies delights in the tensions at play amid the scenarios of masculinity, especially those in which it takes on the exaggerated forms of a super-stimulus. His dioramas depict spaces that function as condensers of abstracted masculinity. Places that are neither wholly private nor openly public. Places he describes as ‘privately public’. Locker rooms and laneways; strip clubs and fight clubs. Places of heightened risk and reduced illumination. Places with loud smells and unspoken rules. Places that mark the end of the line.
These darkly loaded scenes are fabricated using a sewing machine and scraps of cloth. Stitching, a traditionally feminine craft, is used to evoke spaces few women enter, aside perhaps from those employed in service to male desire. The threads spill out messily like an excess of testosterone. Rampant and ravening. Blood, urine and sump oil meander through the field of view. Menace lurks in the shadows. There’s a buzz of excited apprehension. Risk. Cleavers, guns and an electric chair. The morgue.
The French philosopher Georges Bataille argued that, in a finite universe, sex and death were causally inseparable. Together they shaped the paradox that spawns a powerful transgressive urge. Sigmund Freud, in trying to theorise the iterative psychology of trauma, proposed an obverse to the pleasure principle, the ‘death drive’. Eros and Thanatos. They lurk in the thrills of the fun fair and the sensual suspense of the circus trapeze; the exhilaration extreme sport and the heightened libido of wartime. And they charge the filaments of a nostalgic gay history. A history of visible invisibility, of secret signs and furtive haunts, of desire that came at the risk of high cost, if discovered.
Gerwyn Davies’ tiny hypermasculine spaces are maquettes for a theatre of covert encounter performed secretly in plain sight as the codes of male bonding and the semiotics of gay attraction tangle like silks in a slattern’s sewing basket. Each scene reveals no actor, only the shades of erotic imagining and the silent flutter of a seductive and surreptitious danger.
Gerwyn Davies is a photographic artist based in Brisbane.
Series title: ‘… or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cock’ 2010
(upper) © Gerwyn Davies ‘The Boxer’ (detail) 2010
(lower) © Gerwyn Davies ‘The Butcher’ 2010