This article is part of an ongoing content partnership between Neon Tommy and L.A. Currents.
Tramp Stamps. Tinder profiles. Barbie’s genitalia. For the artist Allie Pohl, inspiration is just a sexual taboo away.
Adorning Pohl’s Venice Beach apartment are life-size porcelain molds of the lower torso of the world’s most famous blonde, painted bright metallic pink. They’re part of a three year old collection she’s been working on called “Ideal Woman,” which interrogates what she calls “commercially-packaged” notions of Western beauty and gender ideals. One series of torsos titled “Tramp Stamp” features molds painted with backside tattoos that read “Slut” and “Idiot” — among other bracing pejoratives — in Chinese characters. Another series of porcelain molds titled “Chia” grow chia hair in “unwanted places.” During one installation a chia doll went from prepubescence to womanhood.
“There’s this expectation set up that women should now be hairless,” said Pohl. “I think it really has to do with a lot of porn culture becoming so accessible. Because of technology, we’re just inundated with images that culturally outline what feminine beauty is.”
The Florida native has positioned her art at the intersection of perceived gender roles and technology. Take for example her current project, “Peacocking,” which focuses on the male form and psyche. Pohl’s collection, which began showing in September at the Plus Gallery in Denver, features the dissected parts of male mannequins and a series of “merit badges” she dreamed up after an extensive online dating experiment.
“I was thinking of doing the concept of the “Ideal Man”, but I thought, ‘I’m not a man. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man. I can’t comment on these things,’” said Pohl. “But what I can comment on is how men market themselves to women and how they try to convey themselves online through images and in person.”
Thus started a three-month long online dating marathon, where Pohl would meet up with guys she met on dating websites like Tinder and OKCupid. She studied their online profiles carefully, making note of certain visible trends.
“Every guy had a bro pic. Every guy had a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower or somewhere worldly. Everyone had a picture of them doing something athletic. Everyone had a picture of trying to show their socioeconomic (position) — in a boat, in a car, dressed up,” she said.
For the collection, she created seven merit badges with symbols representing the most common themes found on men’s online dating profiles. One merit badge features a fist bump graphic against a tri-colored background, meant to represent images men put up to relay a sense of sociability. Another merit badge features a variety of emojis, meant to represent images they displayed to communicate their sensitivity and ability to express emotion.
“Each thing that you consciously put up is projecting something. I was most interested in what those things were that people were trying to project (online) and in person. Are they the same?” she said.
She then went on dates with the guys and asked them questions like, “how do you define masculinity?” and “what do you see as your role or duty?” At the end of the date, when he would pull out his wallet to pay for the dinner – and with the exception of one guy, they all paid – she would ask to take a photo of their wallets.
“One of the guys had a money clip at the end, and I said, do you mind if I take a picture of your wallet? He said, oh no problem, and he moved a hundred dollar bill to the top and then put his wallet down,” recalled Pohl.
For another part of the exhibition, Pohl spent some time examining male mannequins and studying their history. She noted certain changes that occurred over the past few decades. She attributes the change to recent shifts in the perception of male beauty – a sharper focus on men’s hygiene and fashion. Pohl says that prior to 2007 male mannequins accounted for less then 5 percent of all mannequin sales. Today, they account for about 35 percent.
“If you sit back and think, why is that?” she said. “Well, gay culture becoming accepted, politically, socially; men getting married later, spending more income on themselves; this sort of increase and emphasis on aesthetics on men — beard competitions, facial products, shaving products. You open a GQ and you might as well be reading a Cosmo.”
For Peacocking, Pohl took apart the male mannequins and painted them in the most popular car color of the last three decades: red, white and silver. Her exhibition is not only a critique of popular conceptions of male beauty, but a commentary on the commodification of our human selves.
“Everyone has become a brand — because Instagram and Facebook and Twitter — it’s like you’re curating your whole life. Choosing what you put up, choosing what people see, taking down what you don’t want people to see,” she said. “I feel more so than ever that we’re this very hyper-aware, hyper-documented beings. We’re all our own little walking brands. I’m certainly guilty of it.”