Not long ago, I payed a visit to Tau Lewis' home studio to talk about OBJECT: her most recent body of work, last exhibited at Edward Day Gallery in a group exhibition featuring multiple works by the skilled This Is Not For You collective. Tau is a multidisciplinary artist based in Toronto whose sculpture, video and photography work satirizes contemporary female objectification, sexualization and matters of identity and self-awareness. We talked about feminism, art and social media among her scattered collection of 90's Cosmopolitan magazines, neon resin sculptures and - just a few- glasses of white wine.
What’s it like working with This Is Not For You collective?
I love it. It’s helped me focus on producing the art I want to create and the collective is always shifting. New artists are being introduced into it all the time and it’s a very broad spectrum, including everything from mixed media to video to sculpture. Being honest, however, although I get a lot of good feedback from our group shows I feel like I should be in an environment that’s a little more safe for the type of work I create.
What do you mean by safe environment?
The work I’m producing at the moment needs to have time spent on it. It needs people to engage with it, to try and understand it and create a dialogue. A lot of the time it gets mixed reactions and, don’t get me wrong, I love creating conversation, but sometimes I’d rather be in a place where my art has time to explain itself. It’s become a huge trend in downtown Toronto where people come out to an art show and want to see a DJ and open bar and the exhibition becomes a party after a certain point, which is hard for artists that want to engage with their audience. There are a lot of people who are willing to take it seriously but at the same time a lot of people aren’t. When an art show becomes a rave it can be disappointing for artists that have dedicated so much time and energy into showing a body of work. Beyond that, the good always outweighs the bad and it’s always worth it for that one person who is genuinely taken by and interested in your art.
When did you start the Object series?
Last year, must have been November. The series is pretty monumental for me. I’m really attracted to and intrigued by the physical and I’ve always loved the tangibility of casting in plastics. It’s a totally artificial medium, yet I’m using it in an almost contradictory way to represent something that is very real. It encaptures every tiny detail, every hair and pore of the body and I love how creepy and chemical it makes the final result look.
What drew you to producing work that comments on female objectification?
I’ve always identified as a feminist. Even before I knew what that word really meant it’s just always been a huge part of who I am. Being a very introverted person, I’m fascinated by myself and my body and I don’t mean that in a conceited way. I’m very self-aware and intrigued by sexuality and physicality. I’ve never identified as a sexual vessel and what I want to achieve with my art is to represent the female as an active life form other than the sexual being it is always shown as.
Do you think this sexual objectification is the effect of a repressed society?
That and much more and I want to try and get people to see females in a different light. If you look up the most basic definition, all feminism really is is the belief that women and men should be looked at equally and have equal opportunities. If you don’t sexualize men you shouldn’t sexualize women. The female body is absolutely beautiful and I’m trying, through my art, to satirize the idea of women as objects. Our society keeps rating women by their boobs or their ass and that’s taking them away from their physical body and fragmenting them into bits and pieces. There’s a long way to go in the physical representation of the female in art and in feminism in general.
Why do you think there’s so much confusion around the concept of feminism?
There’s a lack of explanation and context in what is considered feminist artwork in 2014/2015. I follow a lot of people on social media and there are all of these teenage girls posting stuff that is completely lacking in anything serious or purposeful. There’s also a huge void in black feminist artwork and black feminism in general. There’s a disconnect created by too much connectivity and the entire concept has been dumbed down instead of actually creating a platform for dialogue and learning.
Have you ever received any unexpected reactions towards your art?
I always stand beside my work because I like hearing what people have to say and they have a lot to say about it. It generates a lot of conversation. Some think it’s about lesbian sex, others think it’s about drugs… All of this discussion gets me thinking as well because I have yet to discover all of the different places I’m coming from when I produce it. It’s fun and inspiring to hear what others are getting out of it. I think people are so freaked out by the idea of one female touching another female’s body whereas I think it’s wonderful that females are comfortable enough with each other to produce things like this for the purpose of art. I had a lot of women volunteer to do this project because they felt like it was worth putting out there. It’s not an easy process either. I casted everything from tits to tongues to vaginas and it’s pretty amazing that there are women out there who were willing to form a part of it.
Check out more of Tau's work on her website!