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The Erotic Collages of a Sex Education Teacher

We talk to sex educator and collage artist Zoe Ligon about her solo show 'Woman with the Good Meat Removed.'

by Nathaniel Ainley
Aug 19 2016, 2:15pm

Images courtesy Superchief Gallery

A series of collage works take found images of female subjects and apportion different sections of their bodies like a diagram. These are the "instructive" works of sex education teacher, sex shop owner, writer and visual artist Zoe Ligon. The Brooklyn-based artist has a new solo retrospective exhibition at Superchief Gallery titled, Woman with the Good Meat Removed, alluding to the diagrams that< show you where on the cow the different types of steak come from. Her work has been described as subversive social commentary, exploring themes of sexuality, gender, and power and the way they are represented visually.

Images of sex acts and female bodies in seductive poses are placed on top of pictures of banal objects like a toilet or a patch of roses. Superchief describes this arrangement as a juxtaposition between the everyday objects and the female body. Superchief writes, “Themes involving femininity and pleasure through texture come through, as do elements of anonymity; in trimming images of people down to the ‘bare bones’—geometry, symmetry, lines, and angles—she shows only what needs to be shown: a vessel.”

In addition to keeping up with her own sex blog, Ligon is a frequent contributor to Refinery29 where she writes about different subjects related to intercourse and erotica. She’s shown her work in numerous group and solo exhibitions. Her artwork has been published by a number of art magazines and media outlets. VICE has used her collages in a number of stories, and she was recently featured in TIME Magazine’s The New Age of Heroines.The Creators Project spoke with Ligon to get to the meat of the show:

The Creators Project: Who would you say your target audience is? Is that something you even think about?

Zoe Ligon: While I spend a lot of time analyzing my audience for my sex toy store and sex education articles, I'm not really sure what kind of people are into my art. I think sexually explicit art is very polarizing, but I'd imagine that the people who enjoy my art are already consumers of pornography to some degree. I think the way I collage often censors the images in a way that also makes pornographic images more accessible to people who wouldn't look at porn otherwise, so perhaps a partial motivation behind my art is to expose more folks to the concept of "non-traditional" sex.

What do you want people to take away from this show?

Even if you ARE a frequent porn consumer, that doesn't mean that you necessarily feel comfortable staring at a dick on a wall in a public space. I love watching the way people approach and then retreat from some of my pieces, as though they really do want to look at and explore the bodies being depicted, but then a gear switches within them and they're suddenly very self-aware or even embarrassed. I think that testing the boundaries of your comfort zone is incredibly important for personal growth, so I enjoy the fact that my art puts some people in that position. If something makes a person uncomfortable, I want them to explore where that feeling is coming from. Sometimes I'll see a couple stroll around the gallery, and if one of the partners lingers at a piece for a moment, the other partner will either yank them away or join them and appreciate the piece with them. I love watching that split-second dynamic unfold, and I think it's also very telling of people's comfort with their own sexuality. Having said that, I think my intention is to create some level of dissonance and allow the person to resolve and work through that feeling.

What questions do you pose?

While I think every person takes away a different meaning from my art, I really want to people to evaluate the emotions my work evokes within them personally and ask themselves 'Why? Where is this coming from?' At my sex toy shop, I always say that the "gigantic" dildos cause people to react in a "'ight or flight' manner — they either laugh and approach the dildo in a way that eases the discomfort with humor (I can't begin to tell you how many businessmen I've seen grab a dildo and smack their colleague with it like they're a 12-year-old), or they become very quiet and shy, sometimes to the point where they shut down completely. Obviously these are two extreme reactions, and many people don't behave either way, but I think that dichotomy of tackling discomfort with direct behaviors, like humor and aggression, or indirect behaviors, such as keeping a physical distance, manifests when people see my artwork.

Anonymity and the stripping away of identity seem to be an prominent themes in your work. What does anonymity mean to you? 

I didn't set out to make the figures in my art anonymous, I just thought cutting away parts of bodies in sections seemed aesthetically pleasing. As my style of cutting away the shapes became more popular, people began to think that some of my pieces were secretly images of myself. Even though that wasn't the case, I began experimenting with cutting up images of my own naked body to use in my art. It seemed like a great idea because I could 'release' my nude image while still remaining anonymous, but for some reason I never did anything with the images. It just wasn't as interesting when I was my own subject material.

As someone who works in the sex industry and doesn't use a fake name, I have been doxxed a couple times and have experienced severe paranoia and anxiety as a result. While I don't regret my decision to use my real name, I have to accept that it comes with a certain set of risk factors. Even if you live in a liberal, progressive area, you are still stigmatized to a degree. Until our society reaches a point where working with sexuality isn't seen as a negative mark on your record, anonymity is crucial to the safety of all types of professionals in the industry.

The gallery describes your work as 'the decontextualization of shape, form, and cutting away at identity in its inverse relation to power.' How do you interpret this?

I suppose I interpret that to mean that dicks and labial folds can be quite affecting when they are disembodied. A lot of people use my piece of a dick coming out of a water pitcher as an example of this. I cringe at many of the over-exposed, veiny dick pics I receive, but looking at a playful penis popping out of a water pitcher with very ordinary objects surrounding it makes me all like, "Awwww! Hey there li'l fella!" That same dick sliding into my DMs would not elicit such a positive reaction, so in that way it's taking away it's sexual power and making it very pedestrian.

Why collage?

Well, I honestly suck at other forms of visual art. I have a very hard time creating a whole image from scratch, but when I look at pre-existing images, I'm able to identify components that are worth recycling. Unfortunately, a lot of porn is not shot with the care of the performers and models in mind, and I question the motives of many photographers (especially in less mainstream nudie mags.) I enjoy re-purposing sexual imagery of women that is so obviously shot from a male perspective with the sole intention of pleasing men and making it into a new piece of work that preserves the form of the woman but removes the male photographer lens from it.

Woman with the Good Meat Removed is up at the Superchief Gallery in Brooklyn from August 19th to the 24th. For more information head over to the Superchief Gallery’s website. See more of Zoe Ligon’s work on her website.  

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Tagged:
female
Erotic
Creators
sex education
Exhibition
Retrospective
Collage
superchief gallery
explicit
Zoe Ligon
sex toy shop
woman with the good meat removed