David Lehmann Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide 28 May - 22 June 2003
You may never have been to a nipple chat room, after all there are so many obsessions, so many chat rooms, and only so many hours in the day and night&
David Lehmann has spent a great deal of time in nipple chat rooms and makes it his business to bring some of the more normal nipples revealed on such sites from hiding in the light in cyberspace onto the white walls of the art gallery. The narcissism of the web nipple exhibitionist thus reaches a new level, as a sliver of a subculture that no one ever even imagined is revealed.
Lehmann meets the men; they are all men, the photographic representations of whose nipples he beads. The men are asked to put on a singlet, which has holes cut where the nipples are. One side of the upper body of the man is directly digitally scanned into Lehmann's computer. The shoulder and breast are then printed out in black and white on very fine tissue paper and attached to a canvas with a few layers of acrylic medium.
Vaguely similar to a billboard the nine conjoining sheets of paper are a bit wrinkled like skin that is about peel. Pale greys fading into white, the bodies are ghosts, ectoplasmic in their insubstantiality. In contrast is the section of the breast which includes the nipple which is picked out in colour and detail in tiny glass beads. The irregular torn shapes are reminiscent of outlines of countries, nations on a map of anonymity.
Recent stunning use of beads in art include works by Fiona Hall and Louise Weaver. Hall uses the beads as trade items, political symbols of unequal relations as well as astonishing the viewer with her freestanding bead objects while Weaver uses beads as fragile decoration, cultural constraint. In Lehmann's hands beads are feminine, drawing delicate male desire in and out, over and across, the part of the male body that he and others have fetishised into objecthood.
In these works the nipple becomes more of what it already is, a kind of erotic tool, a part of the body that when manipulated sends awakening sensuous currents into the rest of the body. Lehmann's beading represents that intensity and embraces it with love and care. Running your fingers over beading has its own particular sensual charge.
Lehmann learnt to bead from his grandmother. It is a needlecraft art that is conventionally seen on wedding dresses, cocktail dresses, evening handbags and garments for the circus or the strip club. Though maybe it is sequins, more flashy, less subtle, more durable that probably go to the more hardworking end of the costumes just described. For beading is quite fragile and apart from the beauty of the colours and descriptive patterns in Lehmann's work it is some bonding of delicacy and masculinity that gives the work its force.
It is Juan Davila who haunts me when I look at these works, his lip-sticked mouth, his adoption of the tough guy/hot night white singlet look in so many of his self-portrait works and indeed his quest to transgress&