The current sensitivity to the term “hermaphrodite” is evident with its banishment from the medical lexicon and replacement with a more adequate term: intersex. In biological terms, a true hermaphrodite has both male and female reproductive capabilities, and in humans the label refers to a body whose sex is not clearly defined. The recent scandal involving a professional runner Caster Semenya is evidence of the confusion associated with categorizing gender. Semenya, a 20-year-old South African runner, won the gold in Women’s 800 Meters Run during the 2009 World Championship. Following the victory the International Association of Athletics Federations became suspicious of Semenya’s personal record time and performed gender tests on the athlete. IAAF disqualified Semenya from competition until 2010 when then nature of Semenya’s sex was established. Gender testing has been performed on professional athletes since the late 60’s. Gender assignment of an intersex birth is a complicated task for the doctors and can lead to medically unnecessary cosmetic genital surgeries. A recent transition to the abbreviation DSD (disorder of sexual development) emphasizes intersexuality as a disability. In the battle of gender politics the mission statement of the intersex activists is synchronous with the agenda of the women’s movement and the goals of the LGBT activists, however there is little correspondence between the relatively small intersex community and its allies. Socially, a hermaphrodite is often ostracized, feared, and stigmatized. Yet, in popular culture, a hermaphrodite is exoticized, and often become targets of sensational tabloid myths. (Ex. Jaime Lee Curtis, Lady Gaga). The Intersex Society of North America boldly named their newsletter “Hermaphrodites With Attitude” and protested the discrimination that surrounded them using that slogan.
Artists in this exhibition were asked to directly or metaphorically respond to the idea of a hermaphrodite through their practice. The premise of the exhibit is to avoid polar categorization, consider natural totality, and to investigate the states that are in limbo. Throughout history artists have been fascinated with the hermaphrodite as a symbol. The term is derived from the name of the Greek mythological god, Hermaphroditus, who acted as a deity of bisexuality and effeminacy. Metaphysical poets John Donne and Edmund Spencer celebrated the hermaphrodite as a concept of love – a union of two souls within one body. Painter, Forrest Bess was inspired by the hermaphrodite and developed a philosophy linked to alchemy and the rituals of the Australian aborigines. Bess attempted to perform surgery to transform himself into a hermaphrodite, which according to the legend would bring him immortality. Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye Breyer based their art practice on the idea of a hermaphrodite. The couple underwent a series of plastic surgeries to mold their bodies to the likeness of one another and to eventually become one entity.
The Artists: Ivin Ballen, Shannon Carroll, Lars Van Dooren, Sarah Frances Kuhn, Michel Gerard, Rebecca Gilbert, Natalie Labriola, Lance Lankford, Julie Lohnes, David Shull, Thomas Stevenson, Marina Temkina, Nikita Vishnevskiy, Patrick Walsh, and Daniel Waller.
September 17–October 9
The Main Gallery
51 Bergen St.