Hannah Wilke, ‘S.O.S. Starification Object Series (#2)’, 1975, Richard Saltoun

These chewing gum sculptures come directly from a series of approximately fty ‘performalist’ self-portrait photographs, collectively known as the S.O.S. Stari cation Object Series (1974-82). These photos feature the artist topless, satirising the poses of glamour models in women’s magazines using a range of props.
In all the pictures, Wilke is dotted with the gum wounds which ‘starify’ her, transforming her into a ‘diva’ and at the same time emphasising her scarred or wounded state. The regular and symmetrical placement of the wounds recall the African ritual of scari cation in which bodies are ritually scarred, usually as a means of marking a developmental rite of passage.
In her public performances of this work, documented indirectly by
the photographs, Wilke would hand sticks of gum to visitors as they entered the gallery space, before removing her shirt. She would then request the chewed gum from her audience, twisting each piece into a vagina form and sticking it to her bare skin, thus marking herself with a sign. She commented: ‘I chose gum because it’s the perfect metaphor for the American woman – chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece’ (Art News, vol.79, no.8, October 1980, p 77).

Image rights: Copyright the artist. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery

Art News, vol.79, no.8, October 1980, p 77

About Hannah Wilke

Hannah Wilke is recognized as a pioneer of feminist art, though in her time her confrontational use of her own body and satire of glamour modeling sometimes put her at odds with the feminist community. The artist was among the first to explore “essentialist art”, tying the female experience to the image of the vagina, which she rendered in folded clay, hanging latex, kneaded erasers, chewed bubble gum, or rolled-up laundry lint and stuck to photographs, postcards, and her body by the dozens. Such works recast phallocentric stereotypes in terms of female eroticism and transformed penis envy into what Wilke called “Venus Envy”. As living sculpture, she created the “Performalist Self-Portraits”, acting out performances for photographers to capture. Her interest in the body took a somber turn as she documented her own battle with cancer.

American, 1940-1993, New York, New York