If we would want to outline a cultural scenario, based on the symbolic economy of gender relations, with respect to the great structural changes in Western society – coinciding with the emerging ‘difficult contemporary relation to nature’ – the fascinating question about masculinity has increasingly become a matter of ‘theatrical’ identity, a question that also bears a significant political relevance.
Virility is traditionally considered to be the identitary quintessence of male gender. Figuratively it refers to physical and moral features like power, courage and determination, but literally it implies sexual potency. Furthermore, it exclusively concerns the male adult condition. In this respect it is noteworthy that there is no semantic female counterpart for the term ‘virility’. Hence, ‘femininity’ corresponds with ‘masculinity’. Apparently, this identity gender superlative can only be applied to men. This superlative inevitably evokes other tangible problems, manifesting themselves as a re-framing of the image, driven by cultural and aesthetic needs and – last but not least – criteria related to well-being and progress.
Let us consider e.g. ‘The immoralist’, a 1902 novel by the French author André Gide. It describes the rebirth of the antihero and his subsequent long-term illness. Michel, the main character, has to operate within a system of power relations; he succeeds in defining his own male being by rejecting the prevalent category of masculinity that predominated France at the end of the 19th century. Thus André Gide creates the possibility of unconventional presentations of multiple masculinity.
Consequently, by accepting his inherent more authentic identity, Michel is felled by an illness that nearly results in his death. Metaphorically, it is his past male identity that is moribund, poisoned by social conditioning, trapped in a normative masculinity. The purpose is to demonstrate the precariousness of gender categories imposed upon us. The artistic contribution of young artists Egon Van Herreweghe and Thomas Min searches to develop a carefully balanced aesthetic survey, firstly in relation to a great variety and abundance of historic images.
By playfully disrupting ‘the superlative’ of virility their aim is to bring about a change in mind-sets, differing largely from any type of conservative deontology. The exhibition is construed in a multifaceted manner and seeks to create distinctive environments that are metaphorically transformed. Objects are reinvented and remodeled, without disregarding their identity or context. In this way, a new personalized vision takes shape, which is both empirical and self-referential. Thus arose ‘The Ideal Husband’, in unison, without avoiding contradictions: ‘among men’ and ‘about men’.
The Ideal Husband at Jan Colle Gallery Jakob Van Caeneghemstraat 16, B-9000 Ghent Thursday to Sunday 2-6pm