Universal Man

ARTIST'S NOTES The idea of the 'Body Box' show at the V & A was to explore the ways in which the human body had been represented in art and life. It was planned to contain a variety of objects and images including paintings, photographs, life casts, clothing and sculpture. I saw the commission as an opportunity to make a time-based work linking some of these diverse media in one piece, and relating the work to some particular exhibits. I named my new work 'Universal Man' in response to the inclusion in the exhibition of the muscle-bound, macho figure of Mr Universe. This life cast, a complete-in-every-detail nude, personified the idealised sexual stereotype of masculine strength. In contrast, my concern was to present 'ordinary man' and to have him physically construct and then deconstruct his less glamorous image, represented here by his shadow, his reflection, his suit of clothes, his body cast and his photograph.

These actions were conceived as a series of tasks which would be carried out continuously throughout the opening of the exhibition, as if it was a 'live sculpture'. The numbered sequence of actions, assembling and uncovering, then disassembling and covering sections of objects, images and the performer himself, were to be carried out evenly and cyclically, without a sense of drama or personal gesture,and without emphasis on a beginning or end. Visitors could predict the continuation of the process and so walk away, 'seeing it in passing' rather than stopping to watch.

While installing the piece in the 'Body Box' exhibition it attracted a great deal of interest from the staff at the Victoria & Albert Museum. At first this seemed very welcome, but after a couple of days I was told that rumours had been circulating around the Museum that 'this woman artist is presenting a male strip-tease act!' As a consequence the Director Roy Strong had felt that it should be previewed by four staff who had already decided, on the basis of the gossip, that they were against it, and four staff who were for it.

That evening this already prejudiced group sat through one complete two hour cycle of the work, deciding to censor it in various ways and requesting that the piece be reduced to this one cycle only. They insisted that the genitals on the black and white photograph had to be covered, though those on the plaster life casts did not, and that the performer should not be naked. As much as I was concerned that such changes would destroy the integrity of the piece, I was also fascinated by the identification of these particular limits, by which the institution made visible its usually invisible boundaries of propriety in art, (the V & A houses a large collection of antique erotica). Responding to their flippant proposal that the required coverings should be diamante fig leaves, I suggested that perhaps a suitable compromise would be to hang a plaster cast set of genitals to mask the two dimensional image. This wasn't acceptable ... but the staff seemed disappointed that I did choose to use the statuary black censorship oblong and black briefs to fulfil their requirements.
Rose Garrard 1994

'Body Box' Victoria & Albert Museum London

Five six foot high screens, five life size representations of a human male; segmented numbered clothing and plaster casts, segmented numbered coverings over photograph, mirror and shadow. 45 tasks; assembling objects and uncovering images, performed by Genesis P. Orridge

Victoria & Albert Museum London.