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Artist Statement on the series "Crotches"

"In the distance the steep, green rooftops of the Jura, the dry, yellowed riverbeds, drew Ys everywhere. Have you ever noticed how picturesque a letter the Y is, carrying with it an endless amount of significance? The tree is a Y; the fork in a road is a Y; the confluence of two rivers is a Y; a donkey’s or bull’s head is a Y; a wine glass is a Y; a lily on its stem is a Y; a pleading figure raising its arms to the sky is a Y.
This observation can extend itself to all which constitutes elementary, human writing. All which is part of demotic language comes from “hieratic” script. Hieroglyphic signs are the necessary roots of written characters. All letters were first signs and all signs were first images."[1]

- Victor Hugo

"Any book proves itself useful, which teaches us to distance ourselves from the simple reading of its text; yet offering the idea, equal to that of the ancient calligraphers, to seek within the letter the enigmatic projection of our own bodies."[2]

- Roland Barthes

The series, “Crotches”, was born immediately following my honeymoon in India in 1999. During our trip I had a surprising experience: one day, while wearing a perfectly acceptable pair of pants, I felt stares directed toward my crotch. Throughout the day I noticed and “caught” these looks. Perplexed and curious, I took it upon myself to find out about the standard of modesty I had unwittingly transgressed. I was surprised to discover that, in India, the crotch area is always covered. Uncovered, it is viewed as vulgar, indecent, and even obscene! Those simple lines or folds, forming a “Y”, were perceived as provocative and shocking. The realization that this region of the clothed body could be perceived in this manner was astounding and thought-provoking. This “Y” became complex: conceivably neuter, asexual, even unisex, the “Y” can represent the male or female crotch. Here, in this country the “Y” should not be shown, it is hidden and it is veiled. This implies other types of interpretations of this region, those of a sexual and erotic nature.
Several weeks later I was back in France and in my studio. After having finished a large series of paintings, metaphorical and symbolic variations on the female figure[3], I began a new series of larger formats. I decided I would continue to create variations on the female figure, but this time I would speak exclusively about and through the “Y” of her crotch. “Crotches” was born.

The “Y” of the female crotch allows me a means in which to speak about the female figure through a specific region of our body – a synecdoche. This region – suggestive, charged and sexual – becomes, under the auspices of the “Y”, a leaf, triangle, labyrinth, the sky dividing the forest…. From the very beginning of the series, in 2000, the “Y” has symbolized the lines, the folds, the intervals and the separations of this part of the female body. The “Y” possesses an inherent polysemy, similar to that depicted by Victor Hugo, long before I became conscious of its significance as a letter.
In 2010, while working on my MFA, I researched the “Y”’s origin, its graphic qualities, its symbolism, its existence as a vowel and a consonant. Our alphabet comes from the Greek alphabet, which evolved from the extinct Semitic language of the Phoenicians. The grapheme “Y” is identical to that of the capital of the Greek letter upsilon, from which our “Y” derives.[4] This letter corresponds to the Hebrew “yôd”. As the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, representing the number ten[5], its meanings are numerous - the hand, the profile, harmony, mercy – and important in a biblical sense.[6] In Hebrew, as the first letter of the proper noun, God, this letter is of major importance, yet it is the smallest letter of the alphabet. In the act of writing, viewed as the initial sign of each letter, it is compared to the original point in space and time. My research into the “Y” of “Crotches” introduced many new thoughts and themes. In the studio I was now able to put fully into motion the double meaning of the “Y”: as a letter and a figure.

The 48 paintings which make up the “Crotches” series have been created over a 16 year period. Through these paintings I evoke many facets, metaphorical and symbolic, of the female figure. My “unveiling” expresses many themes: protection, confinement, pleasure, mystery, fertility, patriotism… The female form becomes a container, a vessel, a labyrinth, an emblem. This plasticity permits me to view the female figure as unlimited. This concept resonates within me – right or wrong, I have rarely had to think in terms of limits. I can apply this idea to my own life as a woman and as the girl I once was. Raised unequivocally without regard to gender, with the belief that one can become what she wants to be.

Lisa Salamandra
August 2016

Click here to view the works of the series
[1] Victor Hugo, En Voyage, Alpes et Pyrénées, (1839, Paris, Ed. J. Rouff), (trans. Lisa Salamandra) Paris, Librairie du Victor Hugo Illustré, p. 28, Site of the BnF Gallica, <http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k103019r>
[2] Roland Barthes, Préface à l’ouvrage de Roger Druet, in La Civilisation de l’Ecriture, (trans. Lisa Salamandra) Paris, éditions Fayard, 1976.
[3] See the series, Femmes, 1995-1999, 75 oils on canvas, 25 x 8 in. each. In 1999, Arthur Anderson Inc. (today Ernst & Young, Inc.) acquired the series in its totality for their corporate collection via the Galerie Magda Danysz, Paris.
[4] James G. Février, L’Histoire de l’écriture, Paris, éditions Payot, 1959, p. 389.
[5] The characters of the Hebrew alphabet are employed as letters and numbers.
[6] For example, the Ten Commandments, the ten creations on the first day, the ten pure animals, Gabriele Mandel, L’Ecriture Hébraïque, alphabet, styles et calligraphie, Paris, éditions Flammarion, 2001, p. 47.