by Kenneth Radu
In the film Funny Face starring the exquisite Audrey Hepburn and the light-as-air Fred Astaire, the dynamic Kay Thompson in her role of fashion editor proclaims that it’s time to “Think Pink!” We are then treated to a frenzy of pink haute couture. Of all colours in western society pink is (or was) arguably the most imbued with gender politics. I don’t wish to write about social oppression and liberation here, but as a colour pink can still arouse conflicting responses depending upon one’s prejudices, education, aesthetics, and personal style. In some respects pink retains its gender bias.
Perhaps because of its essential lightness, pink also represents newness kept fresh and endearing in its close associations with birth and innocence, beginnings and youth. To be in the pink is a good thing, healthy in body and presumably of mind. Pink in this context derives from the word pinnacle rather than the colour, but we are not wrong to conflate the two, however linguistically fallacious. Pink is also connected with eccentricity and comedy as in The Pink Panther. “Tickled pink” is an expression of pleasure, often betrayed by a blush. Nor can we forget, despite its somewhat triumphant status today, the tragic significance of wearing a pink triangle during the Nazi regime.
In the art of Adamo Macri pink also possesses evocative, if not strictly political, connotations. Macri can’t be unaware of the cultural meanings surrounding pink and daringly uses the colour in a series of intense, vulval images, each ironically entitled Still Life. As in all Macri’s work carrying that title, the stillness is pulsing with life. Those familiar with aspects of his art recognize that he’s fascinated with organic principles of vitality, with seeds and germination, with transmutations wrought by external forces acting upon internal compulsions: process and progression, incipience and development, origins and shifting identities. The man has conceptions in mind.
The cast of pink in these works is the hue of both overt appearance and hidden life. There are layers to penetrate or to cast off: outer shells, carapaces or coatings or skins. Each image, or photograph of this provocative arrangement of materials, removes a covering to expose the pink membrane through which otherworldly creatures may break free of its pink-toned shell.
Viewed one after the other, a logical sequence becomes apparent. The order of their creation by the artist and the order of our seeing them are different experiences. Although they can be looked at in any order one chooses, they can also be placed in a kind of narrative chronology, just as impregnation, gestation, and birth constitute a narrative. Macri playfully depicts beginnings of a process of emergence. The pink is not evident in the first image which looks like a brown nut surrounded by fluffy white fur. There’s a suggestion of the concealment and uncovering of female genitalia, then receptivity, in the second image as the opening widens for potential insemination.
Not visible in the first image, a silver ball appears on a mound of what looks like foam, an inchoate mass itself resting on a honeycomb structure. The meanings begin to proliferate. In another image the ball is more apparent, has shifted position, as if finding a way into the depths of pink. Macri has a bit of fun with viewers here, for many of his images are touched with satire and incorporate visual jokes.
One is not surprised, therefore, to read satirical comments about these images after they were posted on his Facebook site, or equally unsurprising, expressions of distaste. Macri is working deliberately with the conflict between attraction and repulsion, depicting how two seemingly opposing responses can be experienced simultaneously. As with other examples of Macri’s art, viewers may infer much, often projecting their private fantasies onto the public art, but such is the case with interpretation generally which can sometimes go beyond the ability of a work of art to sustain it. Even Freud argues that a cigar is often just a cigar.
In the pink Still Life series, however, it would be disingenuous not to recognize the vaginal implications, the possibility of insemination, and subsequent birth. That much is artistically intended, but here is no lubricious intent. I don’t find the works narrowly sexual at all, although somewhat tinged with erotic colourings. What attracts and what compels is not the symbolic constructions per se, but the presence of delicate and lurid pink. It enables Macri to straddle an extraordinary and fine line between the lovely and the repellent, a tension evinced by the thriving pink which acquires a touch of grotesquerie as it colours the central images.
The mode or image I place last in this sequence, which I assume is complete, is the one where thick tongue-like pink flesh has emerged from its inner recesses. The silver ball has disappeared as if absorbed, and the flesh is rough with what appears to be the outline of some form of life beneath its taut pink surface, now stretched to the point of fissure, of splitting and cracking to liberate whatever resides within. Staring at the images long as I have over the past few weeks, I can’t help but see evidence and outlines of an identity not entirely known, struggling against the carapace of pink, or, perhaps more accurately, being wrapped up in and inseparable from the pink flesh, something that will eventually unfold itself like Macri’s startling creature in Exuviae.
If these models were presented in video or film, shown sequentially or randomly appearing on the screen, I’m sure we’d see the coverings slip aside as the central opening widens. We’d see the silver ball disappear eventually into the receptive flesh. We’d see the inner life awakening, the central pink flesh expanding and pushing outward, breathing in a sense, the first fissures promising new life like a fledgling cracking out of a shell, or we’d see the pink unfolding to reveal its true nature. Pink is living flesh and livid flesh, it entrances and repels: shocking pink.
Kenneth Radu is the author of a dozen books, including story collections, novels, poetry, and one memoir. His first collection of short fiction, The Cost of Living, was nominated for the Governor General’s Award. He has twice won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Best English-Language fiction award for A Private Performance and Distant Relations. His work has also been shortlisted for the Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Journey Prize. In the spring of 2010, DC Books (Canada) published his latest book, Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories.
Macri's Pink Narrative
Essay by Kenneth Radu - July 2012
Macri's Pink Narrative
Essay by Kenneth Radu - July 2012