Chea Prince

Lowe Gallery

Chea Prince is one of a number of Atlanta artists who have sought theoretical models in French poststructuralist philosophy. He draws on the eroticism of Georges Bataille, while his debt to linguistic philosophers such as Jacques Derrida is reflected in the irritating tendency to title his works with French puns and to write self-deconstructing artist’s statements. The pieces themselves are mixed-media compilations of Pop art, mass-media imagery, figural references to artists such as Robert Indiana, Marcel Duchamp, and Jackson Pollock, and literal references to bondage, domination, and sexual anatomy.

Pas d’au delà (No beyond, or Step beyond, 1989) is a huge multi-panel piece that features canvas cushions, a portrait of Andy Warhol, a black-on-black abstract painting, and several male butoh dancers, including one with a three-dimensional black dildo projecting from his crotch. The entire assemblage is bound in rubber straps stretched from snap hooks to steel rings at the center of each panel. Prince plainly intends to deconstruct sexuality in phallocentric culture, but the work is electric with the very sexuality it wants to analyze: the phallus is more prominent than the philosophy. The artist states that the bondage theme in most of the works in this show refers to our being bound by desire, and desire, specifically male desire, is definitely the most evident aspect of the work. In the context of this theme and in the presence of nudes appropriated from gay pornography, the references to Pop and Abstract Expressionist artists suggest that these artists’ work is a sublimation of male sexuality and is thus implicated in the overall phallocracy. Prince’s work is fortunately too complex to dissolve into a simple formula, but sexuality is clearly the engine driving the analytical machine.

In his attempt to confront the character of male sexuality and domination, Prince reflects the influence of feminism. Some of the works portray cleverly constructed relations of painted and readymade elements. In Sorcière d’eau (Water witch, 1989) a strap is hooked to an earring on a painted figure’s ear and seems to be pulling her into a provocative pose. The result is both clever and painful. Jou-jou (Plaything, 1989) is a smaller painting of an explicitly posed woman seated in an overstuffed chair. She is depicted with glowing, fluorescent color against a thickly painted black background. Below her is a series of stencilled numbers, and to the right the word “NO” is stencilled. The “NO” may be both an abbreviation of “number” and a reference to the forbidden image, but the image itself overpowers the linguistic conundrum. In this way, it commands the viewer’s attention and demands a response.

Glenn Harper