Photo: Suzy Kellems Dominik
Art Basel in Miami Beach, the annual gathering that brings together art lovers, party people, and celebrities like Jay Z, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Paris Hilton will get an unexpected addition this year in the form of a 12-foot neon vagina, rendered mid-orgasm by artist Suzy Kellems Dominik. Titled I Can Feel, the sculpture will be on view at the Nautilus Hotel from December 3 to 10.
It's a stirring visual tribute to the beauty of female pleasure that comes during a moment when women are, necessarily, being portrayed widely as victims. To the end that this puts a stop to rampant sexual assault and harassment, allowing ourselves to be made vulnerable in this way is crucial. But a strong feminist symbol—and, really, what's stronger or more feminist than a giant neon vagina?—serves a much-needed reminder of our strength. Plus, it's sure to really freak some people out.
We caught up with Kellems Dominik in advance of the sculpture's unveiling to discuss self-portraiture, Frida Kahlo, the Weinstein Effect, and more.
How did you come up with the idea to make this? It’s so great!
"Thank you! I am glad you connected with the work. The spark for the piece came from a dance with a friend’s brother-in-law and literally a dance was just a dance. That’s all it was. But, this one dance, seriously one dance, took me to a new place in my life. I was in the midst of extricating myself from a very trying, decades-long, difficult personal relationship--one which had required and absorbed my seemingly endless personal reserves. I was feeling a husk of myself, perhaps my time as a sexual being had passed. Gratefully, I realized in that one moment of abandoned joy, whirring around the dance floor that I was going to live, survive, better than survive, thrive and feel again! So, I left the dance, went home to my ranch and made some notes and began work on the piece."
What do you hope viewers take away from seeing a giant neon vagina?
"I want for all women, all people, of every generation and gender the freedom, the shamelessness, to own their intellect, emotions, and physical being completely. If it takes a 12 foot, 27.68-second fantasy orgasm, with fireworks and a sighing bluebird of happiness, to ignite and inform that concept, then I have succeeded at adding to the narrative of personal empowerment."
Can you explain the idea behind it being a “self-portrait”?
"The sculptural light piece is the reclamation of my physical and emotional independence. I am an emotional autobiographer, and my work is, therefore, an extension of who I am and the lens through which my emotions shade and affect my experience. By representing myself at the center of the work as the vulva, I am not unlike Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940. It is my privilege and responsibility, as it is of many artists, to challenge the concept and the complexity of self."
Obviously, this was conceptualized before the conversations a lot of us are having post-Weinstein revelations about consent, but what might this work be able to add to those dialogues?
"I Can Feel is a work of personal empowerment. I strive through this work to agitate, to challenge the viewer and society, to ask uncomfortable questions. To discuss unexpected alternatives to preconceived notions, and examine difficult themes. I hope in a short amount of time, to change someone’s life in the way they can think about themselves and others around them."
Photo: Suzy Kellems Dominik
Why do you think female pleasure is something that’s often excluded from artistic narratives about sex and sexuality?
"This is a complex question, one that I could and will spend my entire career dissecting and representing. In my experience, honest representation and discussion of female pleasure, sex, and sexuality are the antitheses to artistic narrative and society as a whole. I poetically objectified myself in I Can Feel, depicting myself in the form of a 5 foot, 3.5-inch vulva. I chose this artistic device for and of myself. Sadly, self-determination is a privilege and the ability to do so is rare.
I would pose a thought, to your question, for consideration: It may all come down to who, in the arts and society, is doing the objectifying? Who has the power? The opportunity to be seen and heard is the ability to combat invisibility. We live in a society where monsters walk amongst us clothed as gods and elected officials. Women are slut-shamed and reproductive rights are under attack. It seems to me that the last issue on anyone’s minds is whether women are portrayed with a 360-degree view [as] whole, thinking, pleasure-seeking humans. I Can Feel is a work of the glorious human capacity for joy. There will be no confusion as to what my artistic narrative is and the challenge I have set to society. I have empowered myself."