Touching hussarb

Touching hussarb

Bedside touching cart

Bedside touching cart

Touching hussarb

B+D ottoman

Homely

Homely

mechanically operating seat

relational objects

essay

naughty teasing vixen

Nicole Voevodin-Cash creates sensual objects that blur the boundaries between the functional and the playful in her beautifully crafted sculptural furniture, erotically transformed objets trouvé and enigmatic relational objects. Acknowledging a debt to Surrealism, particularly the work of Meret Oppenheim, Voevodin-Cash translates the element of surprise — the hallmark of that movement — into a twenty-first century comment on gender expectations, stereotypes and the rules of engagement, both intellectual and physical. Her work combines playfulness, naughtiness and sexuality that is at times unnerving and bewitching.

Voevodin-Cash understands the rules by which we have been trained to view art: look but don’t touch, engage with it seriously, try not to smile, talk quietly, and for goodness’ sake, don’t laugh out loud. She recognises these conventions and, through her work, promptly reverses them. Voevodin-Cash belongs to one of the new generation of artists who utilises her knowledge and expertise, selects (or makes) voluptuous materials and employs an extraordinary degree of craftsmanship to challenge the assumptions about engaging with ‘visual’ art. For the works Voevodin-Cash creates are made to be touched, to be engaged with as playfully as the maker intended them to be seen.

Voevodin-Cash’s attention to detail and her exemplary upholstery and cabinet making skills serve to convince us of these objects’ practical application, and we are unaware, initially, of the dangers that lurk beneath her craft. Her Touching hussarb can be used in a functional manner, indeed it is used, but is also an object of extreme beauty, and immense fun. Which is not to say that these ideas are mutually exclusive, far from it, but frequently one is prioritised at the expense of the other — practicality at the expense of fun, or sensuousness. She has the uncanny ability to blend a multiplicity of intentions into the one object, and the result is a surprise combination of pure, serious enjoyment.

The materials — felt embedded with pubic hair, shimmering, brilliantly coloured velvets, hair and fur —, their temperature, the sound and movement that they make, all create a spectacularly theatrical intimacy, as the things we enjoy in the privacy of our own boudoir are paraded on public display. Those warm, intimate moments alluded to in the cabinets such as Bedside touching cart, the vibrating seat B+D ottoman, the pouches and drawers in Volumes of touch, are shared not with a lover, but with an audience of other viewers. Our private experience is made public. In the gallery, our solitude is broken: we are not alone.

The sound that echoes through the gallery is often one of stifled giggles, as people plunge their hands into a warmed, fur-lined pocket, or sit on a seat that vibrates on demand. Viewers, surprised by the results of their action (the fur was not anticipated in such a meticulously crafted piece of furniture, the seat looked ‘safe’), discover also that the language of sensuality, even when tarted up in velvet, can be profoundly humorous and relies on the unexpected.

The language of opposition ‘what you see is not what you get’, is often used to reinforce existing position of gender expectation, for example the hard lines of geometry can equate to the masculine culture of logic and rationality, the soft fabrics of velvet and fur can be, likewise, linked to the feminine. With Voevodin-Cash’s work, these divisions are thrown into turmoil. Is the hard, finished exterior serving to cover the fur-lined interior or is it a masquerade hiding what is beneath? Can the soft, padded cover of a mechanically operating seat be seen as drag? The hair-threaded gym boots? The stiletto shoes with football boot stops? Gender confusion reigns, but is it all in our minds?

What of the mesh ‘relational objects’ where what was once covered is no longer in evidence: the mesh is only a skeleton or a shell surrounding a once-functional object. Voevodin-Cash worked as artist-in-residence in the Pomona Community Museum for a period of weeks, initially with the intention of using the cabinets as part of an installation, but became fascinated by the objects held within: the jars, the tubes, the syringes, the douches, the enemas. While not using these objects themselves, Voevodin-Cash covered them with wire, and transformed them into ghost-like carapaces that retain a memory of the objects’ intimate uses in their hollow forms. They remain curiously sexual, but definitely not sensual: for, if you were to hold one of the relational objects, they would first feel hard and spiky and, secondly, crush easily.

This dualist concept is taken further when viewing Voevodin-Cash’s work on a website: how can the sensual touch of fabric, wood, metal and fur be understood in an environment that cannot allow a multiplicity of touches to occur? ‘Touch’ becomes the tap of your finger on the keyboard or, as you explore your immediate environment for something similar by which to understand Voevodin-Cash’s work — the chair, the wardrobe — it only makes plain the differences between each surface’s tactility. Now, no longer is the hard surface of metal and geometrically constructed wood opposed to the softness of fur and fabric — both operate in the realm of the tactile, which is, for the moment, an impossible of the ’net.

What you have is the look: the shiny, colourful, odd-ball appearance of the objects, redefined in pixels in an untouchable context where words attempt to describe a sensation. What you read may entice you to go and see, but also frustrates and draws attention to the lack implicit in viewing art on the net, a lack that needs to be addressed in order to truly understand these works. In a way, Voevodin-Cash’s naughty tease continues: as the viewer, no longer able to touch, is distanced, not by understanding, but by exactly that which Voevodin-Cash is alluding to: the rules that govern the gallery, more often than not, also govern our lives.

Robyn Daw
2001

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