Synth-Pop Singer Peaches’s First Solo Museum Show Is Brash, Provocative, and Definitely NSFW
The singer has a provocative exhibition on view in Hamburg.
When you hear the name Peaches, you probably think of the brash, 52-year-old Berlin-based musician who became a Y2K sensation with her album Teaches of Peaches, which featured the shocking and deeply catchy song, “Fuck the Pain Away.”
But the singer, who has an appropriately provocative solo exhibition at the Kunstverein Hamburg, is an artist as well.
Her new show, titled “Whose Jizz It This?” (through October 20), imagines a near-future where sex toys wake up from their inanimate circumstances and dedicate themselves to leading lives of sexual fulfillment rather than of subservience.
“Something I talk about a lot in my music is squirting,” Peaches says between sips of herbal tea. “I thought, you know, this is something the fleshies would want to experience after being jizzed into for so long.” (Fleshies are masturbation devices with a mouth and genitals.)
Though not as widely known for making visual art, Peaches is an international cult hero when it comes to music and her fearlessly queer, feminist oeuvre, which trudges through provocative themes.
She’s toured with musicians like Marilyn Manson and Iggy Pop and has collaborated with the likes of Christina Aguilera and Pink. But her focus these days is squarely on her artwork.
Bold As Ever
Drawn to the idea of a project that, unlike her stage shows, didn’t center on her own physical presence, Peaches’s initial idea for the exhibition came to her when she stumbled upon an YouTube review of a sex toy last year.
“When I looked at the object, it reminded me of chickens that are bred for mass consumption and no longer have beaks, or have extra wings because they’ve been mutated for whatever purpose humans want them to have,” she says. “I was thinking about Animal Farm—what would happen if the chickens rose up and wanted their beaks back?”
The Hamburg show features over 50 new artworks, from titillating videos and photography to animatronic sculptures and futuristic textiles. It’s all brought together into one mood-lit installation that’s more like a stage setup than an art show, with carefully choreographed music and lights.
The show was originally intended as a retrospective to mark the 20th anniversary of her stage debut, but she decided to push herself in a different direction.
“I didn’t understand why I would be making a retrospective of myself,” she says. “It would be nice if someone wants to go into my archive and do it, but I thought, no, I’d like to make new work. And that was it.”
Peaches says that she “cried for two months” during the initial phases of the project.
“I knew that it wouldn’t be easy,” says the institution’s director and curator, Bettina Steinbrügge. “When two different fields of cultural practice merge, the problem of translating each system and structure to the other side is a bumpy road. But I believed in the project from the beginning, and I knew it would create a fresh look at the format of an exhibition.”
An Unconventional Show
Peaches’s career-long commitment to doing things differently in music has translated across all elements of the exhibition, even the skeleton of it.
“I don’t relate to podiums or pictures in a frame. It’s the architecture of the art world,” she says.
Instead, she turned to a language that she is fluent in: the language of performance. Stage risers and theater curtains are used in place of the museum’s more traditional moveable walls. Using this setup and her strange, fleshie-like objects allowed her to open up a wider dialogue about consent, she says.
“The point was: how can the fleshies become emancipated? I asked myself, what has my own way of becoming emancipated been? And a lot of it has been using the stage as a way of expressing myself and inspiring others. I wanted to give the fleshies that same platform.”
Peaches has dedicated eight months to creating the exhibition and the ambitious corresponding live show, titled “There is Only One Hole With a Piece in the Middle.” (The 40-person stage happening, which had its world premiere earlier this month in Hamburg, opens today at the Southbank Center in London.)
The Berlin-based performer says she’s delighted with the reaction so far.
“At the opening, it was exciting seeing people not just coming in, looking around, and leaving, but actually staying and experiencing [the work],” she says. “It was funny because I realized that it became a communal space, which is what I always try to do in my music.”
Part of this was realized through literally giving the fleshies a voice. Within the darkened hall of the Kunstverein, objects are arranged into 14 different “scenes” that at intervals are activated by lights, movement, and sound.
At one point during my time in the exhibition, the spotlights turned onto an altar featuring two entwined fleshies that began to sing. At another moment, an outsize mechanical fleshie began noisily to give itself a fellatio. It is inspired, Peaches says, by sex educator and artist Annie Sprinkle’s masturbation experiments.
Peaches also cites Paul McCarthy, Cindy Sherman, and Yoko Ono as influences. From the younger generation of artists, she name checks Kris Lemsalu, who represents Estonia in this year’s Venice Biennale, and Berlin-based, Swedish artist Anna Uddenberg, who is best known for her darkly humorous sculptures of the female form.
“I don’t think [Kris and I] are similar, but I just like the way she looks at the relationship between humans and animals,” Peaches says. “With Anna Uddenberg, [I’m attracted to the] the sheer creepiness of her sculptures.”
While she won’t discuss specifics yet, Peaches says she is planning more visual art projects in the near future. “It is easy for me to do a stage show and know that people will love it. The biggest risk comes from knowing you might fail.”
“Whose Jizz Is This?” is at Kunstverein, Hamburg, until October 20.
“There’s Only One Peach with the Hole in the Middle” will be on view at Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Center in London on August 28.
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