Jennifer Culp is a metal artist who creates striking and wearable art, with a strong focus on sexual health (so yeah, we’re big fans). Here, Jennifer shows us some of her innovative stuff and answers questions about her work.
In my day-to-day life, I am strongly attracted to rings and tend to wear a ring or rings rather than other jewelry forms. This translates to a fascination with the ring as an art object, and looking back, I noticed that some of my strongest early works were rings. I realized rings were a very appropriate form with which to address some of the topics I wanted to explore—they’re small, they interact sensually with their wearers, they function traditionally as statements about relationship status—there are a lot of connotations that come with the idea of the ring that work very well with subject matter involving intimate relationships. Once I made the decision to make all the pieces rings, the collection came together pretty smoothly. In some cases, it took experimentation to push myself beyond the simplest concept of a ring as a shank with a decoration stuck on it into more sculptural forms that wouldn’t necessarily be worn outside of a gallery display setting.
What the hell is up with the title, “[personal] Space Invaders?”
Looking at the work as a whole, I realized that a lot of it is concerned with penetration and invasion; I wanted to acknowledge that in the title. As three-dimensional works, the pieces interact with the viewer’s space, invading and being invaded upon by the viewer (probably more often the latter, since the pieces are stationary and the viewer approaches them). The rings are small-scale, so a sharing of intimate, “personal” space is necessary for viewing them, and they concern subject matter that most people would regard as intimate or private. The choice to display the work on cast hands added a human element to the installation, showing viewers exactly how the pieces fit on a human body. The hands made some viewers slightly uncomfortable; presumably they were disturbed by what appeared to be the wall’s white hands protruding out into “their” space.
Herp sores are forever (above)
I first thought of this piece while lying in bed, wondering what I would do with some tiny garnets I’d had for years and never used. The idea of a commitment ring to an incurable STD made me, perhaps somewhat perversely, laugh my ass off. I riffed on De Beers’ “diamonds are forever” slogan for the title, after considering “some things last longer than love” but deciding that was more preachy than funny. It later occurred to me that, while few people with a disease would wear a ring advertising their infected status, many other people might wish that those who carry an STD, incurable or otherwise, had some obvious distinguishing physical trait to advertise it. I find that rather disturbing, but am disgusted by the notion of someone who would purposefully hide such information from a sexual partner who could be adversely affected by it. Which leads me to…
While making Scumbags, I couldn’t stop thinking about something a prominent member of my university’s Student Government Association once said to me. Off the record, I assume, he told me that he had slept with eight girls, but never had to wear a condom because all of the girls were virgins. Vom. Obviously, that…person…had never seen a used condom, but if he had, he would realize that in spite of their disease-protecting and mess-saving awesomeness, a used condom is one of the most disgusting looking things on earth. And then, our friend might realize that he had treated those eight girls much like used condoms—disposable receptacles which he had orgasmed into and could then throw away, without guilt or any regard for the health or safety of such vessels. Unfortunately, I doubt such a revelation would occur to a man who uses virgins instead of condoms. Upon the sight of a used condom, he would probably think, “Ew, gross. Why would anyone use one of those?” as some viewers who see this piece think, “Ew, gross. Why would she make that?” I made it, personally, because it helped silence the nagging in my head about the particular scumbag discussed here and his ilk. It can be interpreted quite differently, but I would never want anyone to read this piece as an anti-condom statement.
An inordinate number of people who saw this piece in person asked me if the substance inside the condoms is “real.” It is Elmer’s glue. A new version of Scumbags, which I made after finishing this collection, is now part of the Kinsey Institute Gallery’s permanent collection. Yay!
Pure Speculation (above)
While planning this piece, I thought about the terror that often accompanies consideration of a new sexual partner. Most of us can’t personally perform a pelvic exam and swab (or male equivalent) on a prospective new partner, so our view through this tiny speculum is, well, purely speculative. The hand holding this piece in installation pointed it out toward viewers, placing them in the somewhat uncomfortable position of the examined, rather than the accustomed perspective of evaluating others’ potential danger to oneself.
Chewed Up & Spit Out came out of my first attempt at Pure Speculation. When I wasn’t satisfied at how it turned out, I put some tiny “tooth marks” in it, roughed it up a little, and it became a representation of the aftermath of a bad gamble on a new sexual partner. (Or an encounter with a vagina with teeth, that can breathe fire. There’s always a risk, people.)
Droopy, Winky, and Chubs; the Cock Rings Series (above, Droopy; first image, Winky)
These guys sprang from rumination on the male gaze and its power in our society. Initially I made a little anthropomorphic penis-man with an eyeball in his head, but it didn’t turn out so great. When I showed it to my father, he gravely said, “That looks like a bad circumcision accident.” SO. I regrouped and came up with these guys. The little silver ball in each of their heads is slightly more ambiguous than an eyeball (is it a drop of pre-come? A piercing?), but functions as an eye with which they can stare unblinkingly at the viewer. They all have a gut (and/or warts and wrinkles), but seem unconcerned about their own less-than-perfect appearances; they’re far too busy looking at you. They ridicule our society’s practice of assigning value to women based on perceived sexual attractiveness—while assigning relatively little importance to the aesthetic appeal of men—by putting the viewer in the beam of their own tiny, entitled, male-privileged gazes. The male-privileged gaze that we all, male and female, are indoctrinated in by our culture is a way of looking at the world that undermines any attempt at equality between the sexes. I’m infuriated by its entrenchment in our society and its warping of my own worldview, but instead of ranting (as I am occasionally wont to do) I’ll now sit back and let the Cock Rings point out how silly it is.
My dad on the finished Cock Rings: “They should have a comic book series! ‘The Adventures of Droopy, Winky, and Chubs: One sticky mess after another.’” Aaaaand, that’s probably a good mental image to end on.
Jenn will be reading, so if you have an comments or questions, feel free to leave them below!