Monday, May 14, 2012

                         Catherine Opie: Jenny (Bed)

In 2009 Catherine Opie made the work “Jenny (Bed)” as a part of her series “Girlfriends”. The “Girlfriends” series was displayed at the Portland Museum of Art in 2011. In the “Girlfriends” series Opie returns to one of her earlier portrait styles, in which she photographs friends. The photo “Jenny (Bed)” contains Angelina Jolie’s ex-girlfriend. In the work Jenny is seen lying on a bed in a sexually provocative pose, directly looking at the audience, while wearing a white wife-beater, black leather pants and black leather boots. The work, like many others of Opie’s, contains a fairly plain background. The photo primarily contains the contrasting colors of black and white.  Her sitters often wear leather, have tattoos and a lot piercings, and Jenny is not an exception.

Jenny (Bed) 2009-Catherine Opie
Opie’s piece “Jenny (Bed)” like many other of her works challenges the homophobia in America. In an interview Opie states, “How do I position myself? As long as homophobia still exists, I will continue to make work in relationship to my life and visibility” (Driscoll 9). One of Opie’s main goals in her works is to try to get rid of the homophobia that exists within people. She uses her art to try to redefine the image of homosexuals. This is similar to what Frueh describes some of the feminist artists of the second wave as trying to do, “In the 1970’s, feminist artists, wanting to reclaim the female body for women, asserted pleasures by representing women’s bodies and women’s bodily experience. The resulting positive images of the female body are a critical part of the feminist aesthetics of the 1970’s” (Frueh). Changing the image of a group is what both Opie and feminist artist of the 70’s were/are trying to accomplish.  The piece “Jenny (bed)”, does this through it use of color and the image of Jenny. 
               Color is very important in this piece. The first thing we noticed was the contrasting colors of black and white which hold a binary with one another. The appearance and effect of binaries is a recurring theme in our course this semester.  The piece’s use of primarily black and white in the background can be interpreted as representing the binaries that exist in society today. Sexuality, gender roles, class, and gender all hold binaries in society.  But at the center of the piece, Jenny is seen wearing both black and white. By wearing both colors Jenny can be seen as representing the conflict of binaries.  Binaries in a lot of ways are restricting, because they suggest that if one person isn’t the first, it must be the second. These binaries do not properly represent people by doing this because they leave out a lot of the people that fall within the binaries or push them to one or the other.  Some of the prejudice that goes against homophobia arises from the binary of straight and homosexual, which some people interpret as right and wrong. The “butch/dyke” Jenny image in this photo challenges this binary because she wearing both black and white, showing that a person is not necessarily one or the other but often times a mixed of the two.
                Yet the color of the work is not the only aspect that challenges binaries. The pose that Jenny is in can be said to be sexually provocative. But not only is it sexually provocative, the pose shows seduction through a “sexy” pose that is usually exhibited by men. With one arm over the pillow and the other at the crotch, Jenny presents an image that we usually associate with a male trying to be provocative. Opie challenges the stereotypical image of the male figure with Jenny’s pose. Her hair is cut short and parted in a style that is usually assumed by men. In recent years girls having shorter hair has become more common and accepted, but nonetheless there are people who still see long hair as a style exclusive to women, and short hair as exclusive to men. The binary is once again challenge again with the clothes that Jenny is wearing, black leather pants and boots and a white wife-beater. These clothes, like her hair, are usually associated with men and not women. Jenny contains traits of both the gender binaries, men’s and women’s. This creates an ambiguity that makes some question how they are supposed to feel towards this piece. Lastly the attractiveness of her sitter is important because it creates a contrast to the image that some people hold about homosexuals. When asked why she feels seduction is “a way to open doors for viewers [to the political content]” (Driscoll) she says, “Yeah, I think so. You have to say, why do I keep wanting to look at this person when often I might confront them on the street and create negative meanings in relationship to how they're dressed or holding themselves or representing themselves” (Driscoll). This is a very well argued point but it’s not only the seduction that forces people to question their views it is the destruction of social binaries, through Jenny’s image and the use of color, in this art piece as well.

-Xavier M.E., Blair R.

Works Cited

Driscoll, Megan. Staring: An Interview with Catherine Opie: Portland Art. 3 February 2011. 12 May 2012.
Frueh, Joanna. "The Body Through Women's Eyes." The Power of Feminist Art. n.d. 190-207.


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