Lindsay Hawk: Testing boundaries by shedding clothes

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Hawk
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Hawk

A student in the Sculpture and Extended Media department is making audience members and internet viewers shift uncomfortably in their seats in the hopes of breaking down some societal walls.

Lindsay Hawk, a senior minoring in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, has recently released a variety of work including a video installation titled “How to Make Popsicles,” a jarring visual and auditory experience involving the artist masturbating with red popsicles while naked.

Hawk’s work encompasses a range of mediums, styles and messages. She is a self-proclaimed feminist, and her work has a consistent pro-sexuality theme, embracing human intimacy and form. She hoped that studying GSWS would help her have a more qualified voice on the issues she tries to address.

One of the first times she put out work that challenged herself and combined her GSWS education with her art was a sculpture piece titled “Sex Machine.” This was a multimedia piece, involving a lawn chair with a moulded penis below it, where the mechanism to operate it was a series of water balloons suspended above the user.

Around this time, she also created a piece titled “Eating Out at the Dinner Party.”

“It was this little stage where you could get up and get really close to this pie,” Hawk said. “From far away it looked like whipped cream, but really it was my vagina in a bowl.”

She said she strives to achieve this level of both enticing and shocking in all of her work, and that it helps to convey a different message within each piece.

“What I see it all going back to is taking advantage of the obligation my audience has, because we’re in an institution where it’s structured that way — they have to critique it,” Hawk said. “And also, they’re not expected to be put off by something, or repelled.”

The idea of combining societal views of crude sexuality with art isn’t exclusive to this generation or this artist. From Barbara Kruger to Annie Sprinkle, exploring sexuality and the sexualization of women functions to examine societal norms. Hawk said her art ties in with that of other feminists in that it challenges ideals and expectations.

“Why is it problematic? What about that makes you uncomfortable?” Hawk asked.

Clifford Owens is a visiting artist in the Sculpture and Extended Media department this semester who regularly engages in performance art along with photography and other mediums. He met with Hawk earlier in the semester, and found her artwork to be particularly interesting.

Owens explained the ways in which radical, challenging art may advance society by posing questions that aren’t easy to answer. He pointed to the art group in the ’80s named NEA Four, who lost federal grant money due to the risqué content of their work. He said the incident raised questions about censorship and patriarchy in our government and society.

“There is work that pushes sexuality further than she is right now,” Owens said. “We can think of work by Annie Sprinkle, Holly Hughes, Barbara Degenevieve. There’s a host of artists who have dealt with issues of women’s sexuality.”

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Hawk
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Hawk

When challenging issues of women in society, race and sexual preference is a key component. Hawk is a white heterosexual woman, and criticism of her work might include her frequent depiction of herself and other similar people. She concedes that her work is limited in its scope, but says it still accomplishes much of what she aims to do.

“I know that white women having a sexuality is not as radical as it has been in the past,” Hawk said. “But personally, it is a radical thing for me because I haven’t always been so open to it and so comfortable, and it hasn’t always been an approachable subject for me, so that has always been a process for me.”

She hopes that by her displaying herself comfortably and attempting to make her sexuality and nudity normal, she can provoke others to have conversations about their sexuality and feel more comfortable.

Owens dismisses the criticisms on Hawk’s limited scope on the basis that it isn’t her responsibility to represent all members of any societal group, only to stand with them.

“I don’t think it’s at all her responsibility to represent all women,” Owens said. “I think it is her responsibility to care for, cultivate and think critically about her own vested interests. It’s a tall order to think that any artist of any demographic can represent all members of the demographic.”

He ventured on to say her work examines critical aspects of our culture, and do represent feminist values.

“Sexuality and sex are feminist issues,” Owens said. “The work that she’s making is about women. It is about a woman’s right to represent her sexuality and to use her body freely. In fact, I think that her work is super important to our generation of women.”

He said that any fears or discomfort that a viewer might perceive going into her work is a result of patriarchal norms that determine how a woman’s body is intended to function, and that by bucking these norms Hawk is challenging ideas which restrain women.

Hawk has worked with a wide variety of mediums in her artistic career at VCU, and she said that she’s now dealing with some of the limitations of the various forms.

“The degrees away from how the art is experienced by others versus what it originally is,” Hawk said. “A photograph is the truest form. If it’s a live performance, the truest way is to be there. Every degree away from that — how it’s documented, how it’s written about — means there’s something to be said about being there and experiencing it.”

Some of her performance art has been documented through photographs and videos, and can be seen through her website. Some of these notable works are “Contour Line Drawings” and “The Kiss.” Both involve her and her boyfriend, Jake Greenbaum, intimately interacting with each other surrounded by audience members.

Another controversial piece, titled “Artist Statement,” involved her reading aloud original prose about her discovering her sexuality while Greenbaum performed oral sex on her in front of a room of people.

Many of her performances involve her, and sometimes Greenbaum, being naked. After having performed these pieces multiple times, she said that doesn’t affect her like one might expect.

“I feel like it affects other people more than it does me,” Hawk said. “It almost gives me a commanding presence. But I also am so aware that with my body, it’s more okay for me to do that. If I were anything other than conventionally attractive, people might not view me as someone they’re okay with seeing.”

She said her body type has helped her in spreading her message, and that her being able-bodied, white and conventionally attractive keeps people from being averted from her solely because of societal expectations.

Owens said spreading these messages and examining society is extremely important.

“The political-social economy of this country and this culture must be challenged by artists are intellectuals. Artists are public intellectuals,” Owens said.

Hawk worries, however, that her message is lost on many because of these very reasons. She insists that the art she is creating doesn’t aim to mimic pornography by being arousing and pleasing, and she has fears about people only gleaning that level of it.

“Do I care if you think I’m hot? Or do I care if you understand what I’m trying to convey?” Hawk said. “Sometimes I can tell when that’s someone’s primary, and that’s their limit. I’m not making work for people who only respond to that. Will they see it? Yeah. Do they seek it out? Probably.”

She said that she hasn’t run into a wall where she feels as though she has done too much or gone too far. Instead, she will sometimes reflect on her work, wishing she’d gone further.

“Sometimes I stop myself and think I could have done this, or I could have done more. After I make something I see what’s problematic with it and I want to push to do more,” Hawk said.

Spectrum Editor, Austin Walker

meh_mehAustin is a sophomore print journalism major. He started at the CT as a contributing writer, and frequently covers work done by artists and performers both on and off campus. He hopes to one day be a columnist writing about art that impacts culture, politics and documenting the lives of extraordinary and everyday people. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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