CHEST INTENTIONS; photo collage: At Folk on the Rocks music festival, Day 1
I’ll know it when I see it
In 1964, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart opined that when it came to matters of obscenity versus art, he’d know it when he saw it. Personally, I’m still trying to figure that one out. When is a chest just a chest? On social media, it’s based on gender—Facebook and Instagram both include caveats that female nipples are only allowed in very specific circumstances. But they don’t know what to do with Elliot Page’s chest. For some, any chest is pornographic… unless you’re male and at the beach, and then it’s alright. But it’s not socially acceptable unless the chest is shaved and toned. But if the context changes, so does the chest: you can’t take that same chest from the beach to a restaurant, and it’s not 1972, in which case that chest better be hairy or it’s not masculine at all.
Bodies are complicated. They are personal but also public, private but always visible. The context and time and space they occupy dictate how they’re understood and perceived. Our definition of what makes a “good” or “bad” chest is shaped not by the hills and valleys of the chest in question but by the viewer’s own positionality. What do they, and the culture around them, think? The definition of what is obscene and what is natural is always changing, just as the definition of what is the “right” kind of chest is ever evolving. From the ski slopes of the 70s to the bouncing Baywatch bosoms of the 90s and beyond, what we understand about our bodies and the bodies around us is malleable.
Look at the chests on display: do some strike you differently than others? Do fat bodies seem unacceptably exposed, or are they benign because diet culture doesn’t sexualize fat bodies? Do male chests not trigger a response, but female do? What about Trans or Non- binary presentations—can you tell someone’s gender identity from their body? Does it matter? Do chests you find attractive seem more private, more pornographic than chests you don’t?
This show asks why. In this exhibit, you will see chests of all shapes and sizes, cross eyed and wonky, saggy and small, bouncing and hairy and pierced. Some photographs are stylized, some are the same sort of selfie that fly across the internet daily for private consumption only. By decontextualizing chests from the individual, I invite you to view them as themselves, for what they are—and ask yourself:
“How would you feel about your body if no one told you how to feel about your body”