Penny Slinger: My Body in a Box
By: Lara Southern
In a series created in response to the confines of the COVID-19 pandemic, London-born, L.A.-based artist Penny Slinger has produced a collection of nude self-portraits entitled "My Body in a Box," marrying photography and collage to reflect her own psychological entrapment during the period.
For more than five decades, Slinger has worked across a variety of mediums, including film, photography, collage, and sculpture, using primarily self-portraiture to investigate the connections between eroticism, feminism, subjugation, and rebirth. Her infamously controversial and sometimes discomfiting work has been described as a confluence of feminist surrealism and punk, her use of herself as her primary subject inspiring comparisons to Cindy Sherman and Sarah Lucas, among others.
In this evolving series, she again uses her own nude form to reflect the struggles accompanying the isolation of the pandemic lockdowns, creating images that portray the external impacts with her typically raw, surrealist thumbprint. The series captures Slinger in her naked form, framed in a “box” in a variety of poses, ranging from the stoic to fetal, overlaid with collaged elements. While notorious for her emphasis on the erotic, her decision to remain nude in her portraits has more to do with stripping down to uncover “what’s underneath,” she says. This is not a series on sexualization as much as it is a means of dissecting the psychological entrapment that accompanies the physical during social distancing.
The tranquility and stillness implied in the term “shelter in place” feel almost mockingly antithetical to the quotidian havoc and destruction issued on a global scale at this time, a sentiment Slinger expresses in each of her images. While, in her nudity, she is immediately exposed and vulnerable, the emotions portrayed are not all negative. In one, she captures a sense of abundance and fortitude, as she stands upright with arms outstretched amid a plentiful collage of groceries. In another, she has her back turned to the camera, and though pressing her hands against a brick wall, she splices through the barrier with a strip of blue sky, applying a sense of optimism to an otherwise claustrophobic image.
In the majority of her photographs, however, Slinger’s expression and position evoke a sense of fear, loneliness, and disillusionment. A talented author of over 10 books, she has created a collection of poems to accompany her series, which serve to further examine the multitudes of feeling she has encountered in 2020. The florid and frightening imagery conjured by her words enhances the effect of those same surrealist applications in her photomontages, which include cobwebs, moths and medical tools.
Her intention with this series seems not to be to draw some palliative conclusion or optimistic outlook on the current state of affairs, but more to reflect the highly variable and deeply personal psychological impact that this period’s physical restriction has had on her. It is an extraordinary narrative of a natural renegade’s introspective journey—the portrayal of an outsider, looking inward.
Penny Slinger’s “My Body in a Box” is an ongoing series on display at Blum & Poe Broadcasts, here.