Okemos artist steals the key to the woodshed
By MARY CATHERINE CUSACK from Lansing City Pulse
Mom used to say, “if you’ve seen one penis, you’ve seen them all.”
Well, she LIED! The proof is in the project. Okemos artist Sue Long’s exhibit, ‘The Penis Project: Exposure and Exploitation of Men,’ features no fewer than 100 unique ceramic sculptures of penises.
Small, big, and enormous; erect and flaccid; thick and thin; straight and crooked, circumcised and uncircumcised; pierced and pink polka-dotted; dressed up in business suits, faux fur, feathers, beads, capes, or nothing but a smile — every conceivable preference is represented in this provocative show.
Long’s purpose is simple and direct as the show’s title — she wants to expose and exploit men. But “The Penis Project” isn’t meant just to shake 100 phalluses in the face of the public. Long says she’s addressing an imbalance in the public display of nude male and female imagery.
Her “a-ha!” moment came two years ago, while watching “Last Tango in Paris” on TV with her husband, Ralph. During a scene when Marlon Brando’s character sodomizes a young Parisian woman, he is fully clothed and she is nude. Why, Long thought, is full frontal female nudity acceptable in movies, while men are always carefully covered?
“You can’t have equality when half of the equation is hidden,” “The balance is lacking.” She hopes the show will at least start a dialogue on the subject. “You take away the fear, the taboo,” she said. “I feel like I’m just the vehicle.”
Imagining such an exhibit and seeing it are entirely different things, in part because Long’s works are actually quite whimsical. Far from being an offensive, in your face and over-the-top showcase of graphic genitalia, the exhibit instead showcases the unique character and personality of each penis with a sense of sometimes bawdy but almost always affectionate humor.
Once Long decided to do the show, research was the first challenge she faced. Not eager to fill her Internet history menu with pornography site addresses, she found two consultants who each created a CD of 500 images of penises. Armed with 1000 pictures, Long went to work forging phalluses.
Working with Williamston sculptor Mark Chatterley as a mentor, Long was given some rules in developing her project. First, the subject matter had to be controversial and edgy, something no one else was doing. Second, whatever she chose to make, she had to make 100 of them. This requirement was meant to encourage technical experimentation, new ideas and approaches.
The project evolved as Long’s ideas matured over the past year and a half and she began to create various penis series. The first pieces she created, part of the “Trophy-Caped” series, are literal unveilings of the penis. Later series include the “Dickheads,” “Dicks on a Stick,” the “Guy Bodies,” and the “Penisaurises” (or is it “Penisauri?”) — larger penises on legs.
Long says the Penisauris series —corpulent, plodding creatures with backsides that would make J. Lo jealous (a little junk in the trunk, as they say) — reflect our male-dominant culture’s “slow, lumbering inability to change attitudes about equality for women.” There are also “Penisauris Gnomes,” a perfect complement to any lawn and garden area.
The show is not about male vanity — quite the opposite — but Long knew some men would still see it only as a tribute to their pride and joys. Sure enough, some penis owners have in fact asked her to name pieces after them. One chose a large piece that happens to be part of the Dickheads series — proof positive it’s hard to shame the shameless. The final work completed for the exhibit, which Long describes as her “audacious signature piece,” is “Medusa the Gorgon” — a 6-foot tall Penisauris adorned with a headdress of 50 removable, interchangeable smaller penises. It’s often said that size doesn’t matter, but “Medusa” shows that bigger really is better, at least when making a point.
The point here is that there’s power in the hidden, so let’s stop hiding the penis and take a good, hard look at it. Bring it out in the open. Gather ‘round it, gawk at it, and get over it.