Julia Randall’s exhibition Oral Fixation, at Wesleyan University’s Davison Art Center, displays both natural forms in an vacuous context, stunting their authentic character and ushering in an almost repulsive aura, and surreal forms, which intertwine her work with both social and industrial implications. Although the work of the exhibition as a whole connotes eroticism, given the innate sexuality of the mouth, I find an analysis of the works regarding the tension of their organic/inorganic duality more intriguing.
The works of the Lick Line series, created in 2003 and 2004, present the vivifying organic nature of the mouth, manifesting its inherently natural form in a capacity which manages to remove our otherwise acute familiarity with it. The Blown series, made in 2011 and 2012, assumes new qualities in juxtaposition with Lick Line. On its own, Blown presents gum organically, though this essence becomes illusory in context with Lick Line: its chewed form is merely an artifact of the mouth, and of human action. Gum, manufactured from synthetic rubber – its specific taste and texture refined to commercial perfection – is inherently unnatural. It is only upon interaction with the natural form and operation of the human mouth that the gum assumes these organic qualities. The texturally vibrant bubbles in particular are only a product of the human breath that fills them. Although appearing vehemently natural, the gum and bubbles are merely odd marionettes, whose delusive quality of life is a manifestation of their human architects. This notion of a superficial quality of life becomes ever more apparent in Randall’s Pinned and Pulled series from 2013.
By incorporating industrial materials interacting with the gum, their false nature bursts, both literally and figuratively. The nails and dentistry tools of Pinned and Pulled portray strict industrial qualities and it is their juxtaposition with the gum that “kills” its organic nature. It is of importance to note that both the mouth and devices share the inherent manipulative quality of a tool, in that they are entities that can alter material aspects of their environment. However, the activity of the mouth instills life into the lifeless, in an act of creation, and the industrial tools destructively vanquish this existence, yet in the end both are products of human action.
Through a reversal of these organic and inorganic conditions, the Lovebirds series from 2005 arrays these aforementioned perspectives in a manner which purports a commentary on the abject societal manipulations of nature. In Blown, the organic mouth acts on the inorganic gum, and gives it artificial life. In Pinned and Pulled, industrial tools, very much the product of human action, removes this life. Lovebirds presents the reciprocal interaction between industry and nature, in which humanity wielding industry is the aggressor of a true nature rather than an artificial one. The pull string protruding from the surreal human-mouthed chicken conveys this sense of industrialization, an embodied form of the factory-farm industry. Through this exercise of domination, the chicken, its tongue protruding as if to denote its forced capacity of indulgence, accrues both a mark of humanity (Its mouth) and a mark of industry (its pull string), signifying its subordinate state of existence. Likewise, the white songbird has been modified by a functionless yet stagnantly alluring tassel, thereby suppressing its ability to fly. Also of note is its human mouth obstructed by a spit bubble, stifling any potential song. Thus the Lovebirds series connotes a critical analysis of humanity’s control of nature through industrial means. In context with Blown, the two projects suggest that a harmonious engagement with nature is the principled course of action – the natural actions of the mouth instill the industrial gum with life, while the industrial actions of humanity remove and restrain life from the natural world.
Randall’s Decoys, created in 2005 and 2006 and portraying further amalgamations of industrial and natural substances, reinforce these notions albeit in a more distinct manner. The electrical wire in Decoy #6 choking a humming bird, but slithering into existence as a stem and flower, can be read as our organic nature as human beings intrinsically drawing nature to us despite our motives masked in the malice of exploitation. Decoy’s #5 and #1 exhibit similar portrayals of cloaked natural forms enticing various fauna but simultaneously entrapping them.
Through a portrayal of both the creative and destructive capacities of our human nature, I feel that Oral Fixation provides a condemning commentary on humanity’s oppression of the natural world, while simultaneously implying the plausibility of a congruous and cooperative relationship with nature.