Sunday, November 11, 2012

Art exhibition: Philippe Shangti – Saint-Tropez to London

Grasping the knife between her cuffed hands, her face turned away, she thrusts the blade into her victim. Deep and hard, her weapon penetrates the flesh of the… gigantic pink dildo. Yes, the gigantic pink dildo. Titled The End of Sex and costing a mere £6,000, this is just one in a series of pornographic shots in upcoming French photographer Philippe Shangti’s exhibition – Saint Tropez to London.
PhilippeOn display at the Imitate Modern, a small gallery just off of Marylebone Highstreet, Shangti’s new collection is a visionary assault. Driven by sex, drugs, fetishism, anarchy and death come 28 boldly bright images that shock, disturb, and at times disgust.

Set against the sparse white walls of the gallery, on entry the fluorescent, technicolour photos overpower your eyes; a spiral of audacity where each image seems to contain something more shocking than the next one – a challenge for your gaze. It’s like a celebrity showdown between Lady Gaga and Nicky Minaj.
Nipples and vaginas, dildos and penises, sexual tit-bits are peppered throughout the room and phallic symbolism even infiltrates a trainer (The End World Saint Tropez). A sexual feast, Shangti has taken the taboos and plastered them in plain view.

A Tulisa lookalike stares out nonchalantly from a khaki canvass, her long dark hair covering her breasts. Emblazoned on her arms and stomach read the words “Cash for liquid.” Her right hand clutches a wad of Euros and dollars and dribbling out of her left comes a white, gloopy mass of… That’s where the ellipsis would normally be positioned – is it?, isn’t it? – the power of suggestion, but here there isn’t one. Dribbling out of her hand is semen.

Tulisa isn’t the only boundary-breaker. Minnie is My Bitch features the behind of a woman on all fours about to have sex with a Mickey Mouse toy. There’s also a girl chewing on a condom, another about to inject herself with heroin and, of course, the dildo stabber.

The objective of Shangti’s collection is to “shock and stir the emotions of the viewer with a boldness that demands attention.” There is no denying that the display shocks and demands attention, and indeed, stirs the emotions of the viewer. Emotions are stirred, but not in a good way. The beauty of the erotic is that it is forbidden, it is secretive and there is an element of danger. Sex toys don’t sit on the sink; filthy magazines don’t line coffee tables – if it’s all on show then where’s the fun?

Shangti’s images have broken the rules; they’ve opened the door to the hidden; they’ve turned the unacceptable into the acceptable – and once accepted, the erotic loses its eroticism.

Some things are better left hidden. Some things are better left to the imagination. Shangti’s collection is as powerful now as it’s fresh, but his photos won’t remain powerful – shock is fleeting, soon they will become the norm and once they cross over to this, they will become boring. Great works of art are timeless; Philippe Shangti’s have a sell-by-date.

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