Three things beginning with ‘S’ clearly drive British artist Sarah Lucas: smoking, sex and salaciousness. Her use of materials such as clothing, food and furniture turn innocent objects such as a cucumber and two Satsuma’s into meat and two veg and two fried eggs and a meat kebab into …well I think you get the picture.
Lucas’s exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, titled SITUATION, celebrates two decades of her work, ranging from greatest hits like Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab to present day creations. And she certainly didn’t take the minimalist approach; the place was stuffed with toilet bowls with ‘Is Suicide Genetic?’ written inside, various dead animals stuffed into knickers and placed suggestively on dirty mattresses or crudely strung up on a bed frame, huge pink melting penis’s and plaster fists in lurid poses or mechanically jacking away as if masturbating an imaginary penis. There is only one prominent face on display within the exhibition and that is of Sarah Lucas herself, in a series of photographic self portraits, smoking, wearing fried eggs on her chest and posing with a skull placed between her legs.
Five Lists presents, funnily enough, five lists of words written in pencil on paper, of slang terms for sex and genetalia. ‘Arsebandit’ and ‘Shitcunt’ spring to mind from the list, but these words, and worse, now adorn many a pub toilet door so I can’t say I batted an eyelid or felt shocked. The hand writing was nice though. I suppose the 90s was a more innocent time so the power to shock was much easier back then; you only have to turn on MTV today to see Miley Cyrus licking sledge hammers, twerking away or posing with a strategically placed bottle while you’re eating your Coco pops.
‘It’s all erotically charged yet not really sexually tantalising’ as one reviewer of SITUATION put it, and portrays Lucas as a ‘thoughtful, passionate feminist.’
Light relief came briefly in the form of a self portrait of Lucas made entirely from cigarettes. Another cigarette portrait was of a couple having sex, then once again, I was greeted by an enormous white plaster penis, a metre long, followed by light reflecting bronze ones and more on the horizon. It was a room full of them. By that point I’d had my fill of phalli and so decided to make like a banana and split. Lucas sure packs a punch and some of her playfully suggestive works raised a smile but the raw portrayal of some works that made a stand against sexism and inequality are not for the faint hearted, or those of an excitable disposition.