Jamie McCartney, a sculptor and 'Plastercaster' from Brighton, has spent years making and arranging 400 plaster casts of vaginas to create 'The Great Wall of Vagina'. We figured he must be pretty charming to have convinced such a number of women to strip off for him, so we had a chat.
Where did the idea for this come from?
I was commissioned in Summer 2006 by an erstwhile sex museum to produce a sculpture that was to be an exposé of the different shapes and sizes of breasts and male and female genitals. As an artist this really interested me. I came to realise that most women don’t know what other women’s genitals really look like.
After five years working on the project, have you just about had enough of vaginas?
Well I don’t think I would do another project about genitals. I’ve certainly done enough vagina casting to last a life time and artistically I’m already onto other things. However I’m a straight man and I love woman. I don’t think I could have done a project like this if I didn’t. Lets just say that professionally I’m done with them but recreationally I’m still enthusiastic.
You've said that the work avoids being pornographic because of how it is presented – tell us how you decided the materials and arrangement.
These rows upon rows of casts displayed in this way have nothing to do with eroticism. This was never about that. It is in fact not sexy at all. The brick-like grid of the uniformly white plaster casts becomes just texture from a distance. As you approach you realise what you are looking at. The geometry of 4 rows of 10 casts in each panel is repeated in the 10 panels, creating 4 lines of 100 casts. The solid aluminium frames in contrast to the undulating curves of the casts give it an almost architectural strength. That imposition of geometry on these simulacra of flesh and their sheer number and juxtaposition abstracts it away from any notion of pornography.
No doubt had I chosen to create this piece photographically then, by the use of that common language, it could never have escaped from pornographic connotations. Had I painted them to look realistic, they would have just looked like medical models. It would also have brought the whole issue of race into the piece, which I felt was very important to avoid. The language of sculpture allows the piece to transcend all of that.
You did a before and after cast of a woman who had labiaplasty – what was her motivation to do it? I ask because it seems odd that someone who hates how they look enough to go under a knife would immortalize themselves in plaster, especially as you were unable to find a victim of FGM who would participate.
If a woman chooses to have cosmetic surgery after seeing all these casts then at least she is making an informed decision. This lady saw my casts and still wanted to get the surgery and she is happy with the results.
One of your videos begins with the words, 'One Man, 200 Women.' How has being a man affected your work with all these vaginas?
Yes that video was made two years ago when it was a work in progress. I think of it as working with 400 women rather than 400 vaginas. Some people have suggested it is less powerful coming from a man but I disagree. This is about changing both male and female attitudes and I don’t think my sex is relevant, although other men may take it better coming from another man.
Jamie is producing a book about the wall, with stories from participants, and is hoping to take it on tour. Check it out at www.gwov.co.uk