Nicola Torke

Agentur für Zeitgenössische Kunst

Every well-stocked porno shop has two types of sex dolls for sale: the classic blowup doll and the imitation vagina, which (in terms of form) is, at best, abstract-looking. The latter “can’t replace a real pussy,” as the accompanying promotional material admits. “but it comes damn close!” Nicola Torke presented a refinement of a quite different nature in her latest exhibition. There, a sex doll stood on three short, titlike legs, cast in spotless white porcelain and detailed with a precious line of gold. This work, Seemannsbraut (Sailor’s cushion), 2001, didn’t look at all like a practical love substitute; indeed, it resembled an organic, abstract form á la Henry Moore rather than anything to be found in the ranks of rosy, skin-colored orgasm aids. It is a seemingly innocent trinket that only on closer inspection reveals its anal and vaginal openings.

The context of the installation, too, uprooted the porcelain cast from its debased origins. An additional four ceramic works picked up its erotic aspect, in that they allowed internal as well as external views of vaginal and feminine spaces. Two of these were borrowed from museum collections: one, a bowl with salamanders, snakes, leaves, and flowers cast by sixteenth-century French ceramicist Bernard Palissy; the other piece represented a group of fishermen pulling their bounty to shore in a vagina-shaped net. These small-scale works imbued female eroticism with traditional connotations—the sea, moistness, fertility, “low” or ground-loving flora and fauna—and also a striking color palette. The other two ceramic figurines were by Torke: one bust and one classical-style female figure with draped robes placing two flower pots on a spherical pedestal. Again, the contexts of “humus” and fertility were thus brought into association. But above all, the positioning of the figurines, which invited a look into their “inner life” (their negative forms), again evoked grottoes, caves, and the dark, encompassing space of the feminine sex.

It is characteristic of Torke’s preoccupation with eroticism—especially with the female sex organs—that she allows traditional associations to persist. What is dark remains dark. Whatever is moist and enveloping, connected to the sea, the humus and water, is validated by those very associations. But on another level Torke aims to overturn time-honored prejudices. It is not angst that rules her images of these sexual spaces, not the fear of embodied caves, but rather the attempt to show all of this in a state of purity; that is, to divest it of negative valuations. Just as the pornographic sex doll is reborn as an innocent, immaculate figure of feminine sexuality, Torke revaluates the whole space of feminine eroticism, achieving a reversal of the passivity traditionally attributed to woman.

Torke’s sculptural works were complemented by watercolors that played with the main theme in less formal, more poetic and sensual ways. Orchid flowers or paisley patterns triggered erotic associations, though without making any gender-specific statements. Elsewhere, a gigantic Medusa with a trumpet-shaped opening threateningly approaches a tiny windjammer on the ocean’s surface. There it was again, albeit with a humorously ironic undertone: the fear of the engulfing feminine, emerging from the depths of the oceans and so dangerously encroaching on the manly pride s&g forth on its surface. An ancient anxiety was reduced to nothing more than an amusing play on the prejudice of a past age.

Wolf Jahn