Santa Fe Drive in Denver is chock-full of small art galleries and this month a show at Kanon Collective is full of surprises. New works by Elizabeth Mahler Licence fill the front of the small gallery space. Licence has been a photographer for years, showing small works there many times, as a member of this art cooperative. In this exhibit, entitled “Escorts,” she has appropriated others’ photographs and manipulated them to her own purposes.
Unless you grew up on another planet, you know that Las Vegas, Nevada is famous for gambling, but also for legal prostitution, and in downtown Las Vegas, you can often be handed photo cards as you pass on the street, to advertise the services of various ‘call girls’. The images they present are a kind of soft-porn, with stars or hearts or other shapes coyly placed over the women’s body parts. Licence has taken this presentation and artistically altered it to take on a kind of “women’s work” appearance. The photos are turned into soft-pastel digital color prints on fabric on embroidery hoops (about eight to ten inches diameter is typical size). Then she has sewn cute cutout cloth shapes to cover their delicate parts, with needle and thread, mimicking “ladies hand-work” decorative crafts.
The printing has the effect of multi-color screen printing, where each color is separated and layered. As a result these soft-porn images of sex workers become transformed into decorative designs, masking and disguising the original image’s promise of sex, with almost-innocent, sweetly-crafted alterations. Licence has made an interesting transformation here: the work recalls the championing and use of traditional “women’s craft” such as sewing, knitting, and crochet by second-generation feminists. And the works draw attention to the re-appropriation of “images of women,” intended for consumption by men, to artful purposes. If there’s irony, it’s partly because the art works are for sale (naturally), thereby doubling the intent of the original advertising card image.
The women in Licence’s art works retain their allure, but now as decorative “playmate” types, where the hard work and raunchy side of prostitution is easily forgotten. I’m not sure if that is the artist’s intent but the show is intriguing nonetheless, and draws attention to the possibilities of crossover in art and life. Life, at least in Sin City, USA.
Kanon Collective, 766 Santa Fe Dr, Denver CO