Undressing conceptions of femininity, objectification, and power with every self-captured pout and arch of her back, Leah Schrager‘s work is a THOT-provoking synthesis of digital culture, hyper-capitalism and sex positive feminism. In a two woman show at Superchief Gallery Soho that Schrager shares with artist, actor and designer Lindsay Jones, the two creatrixes explore their shared history of straddling the modeling and art worlds.
Schrager’s ONA (short for “online persona,” among other things), is the star of “Profit-Positive Pu$$y,” and appears on nearly every screen mounted in the gallery. ONA is a model/musician with a pop EP, a naked pay site, and thousands of Instagram followers on her selfie-saturated account with the ultimate goal of getting “10 million IG followers, 1 million album downloads, major gallery representation, and her ass on the cover of Rolling Stone.” Through this persona, Schrager explores “celebrity-as-art-practice,” consciously enacting the seemingly unconscious celebrity performance (art) made famous by the Kardashians and their ilk. And like the Kardashians, ONA’s calculated grab for fame has garnered her fans and haters alike, illustrated by the “50 Favorite IG Comments From Fans” screen, which is glutted with adoring and damning comments about Schrager’s body and practice.
As someone familiar with Schrager’s work (see our previous interview with her), it’s easy to forget the initial reactions many have to it — arousal, fascination, ridicule, disgust and dismissal are all responses I have observed. But Schrager is well aware of the panoply of emotions that ONA invites. In the screen that scrolls through diary entries recounting her first year of the project, we are privy to the tolls this work has taken on her personal life in the form of slut-shaming and ostracism from friends and family. On the “Milestones, Revelations, Dilemmas” screen, she reveals how similar reactions from the public might hurt her career: “I fear that I have alienated people in both the art world and the mainstream through my pro-male arousal persona and advocacy. I realize this may be my biggest hurdle moving forward.”
Whether Schrager/ONA is earnest or calculated in these assertions doesn’t matter (and the two aren’t mutually exclusive, either), because by “opening up” and expressing her “real” inner emotions behind the plastic mask of perfection she portrays to the world, Schrager creates a closed system with her ONA character, crafting both the flawless exterior and the vulnerable imperfect interior that drives our cultural craving for the cult of personality offered by IG, pop and reality stars.
And while ONA is stripping down, Lindsay Jones’ “Embroidered Pop Feminist Veil” provides a counterpoint to the conversation Schrager initiates. Referencing historical Greek, Roman, Christian and Muslim concepts of modesty and shame with the ghostly head covering that she has stitched with No Doubt, Beyonce and Destiny’s Child lyrics, Jones hints at the other option many women choose — or are forced to accept. “I’m just a girl” and “I’m a survivor” are sewn into the veil in pink, the former aligned over the wearer’s mouth, and the latter over her crotch area. In keeping with Schrager’s controversial theory to “Pay The Nipple” instead of freeing it, there is also the option to watch a psychedelic nude video of Jones behind a nearby curtain for $5. “Keep the ticket, it’s good luck,” the artist said to me before pressing the hot pink stub into my hand.
Within the confines of one show, “Profit-Positive Pu$$y” depicts two contrasting options for female embodiment: the slut or the prude. Self-objectification or objectification. Capitalism or Fascism. Claim your body or someone else will. Obviously, it’s nowhere near that simple. Some women would prefer to land somewhere in between — or outside the binary altogether. That’s the dream of feminism, at least. Whatever you personally would choose isn’t the point, however. This is what Schrager and Jones have chosen as conventionally beautiful, cis, white female artists, and by claiming their right to celebrate, monetize and promote their sexuality as they see fit, they are in a way affirming the right of women and sex workers of all kinds the world over to do the same. If female bodies are to be bought, sold and consumed without our consent, “Profit-Positive Pu$$y” begs the question, why not harness and subvert this dialectic for our own gain?
Profit-Positive Pu$$y closes Saturday, March 5th.