Pubic domain
A graphic delineation of public and private lives
Gallery Review

By Mimi Fronczak Rogers
For The Prague Post
March 14th, 2007 issue

March 14th, 2007

Alena Kupčíková is a talented young artist who is best known for the unusual medium she works in: pubic hair. She transforms the short and curly strands into delicate linear drawings of female nudes with an up-close-and-personal focus on the female pudenda. Her drawings possess a implicity and surety of line, imbued with human presence while at the same time conveying a sense of anonymity.
The series also prompts viewers to consider a range of issues, among them reconciling the private self and the public self. In each of the eight pubic-hair drawings on display, a generous portion of the clippings goes toward depicting the figure’s mons, with the remainder forming part of the subject’s body. The drawing may home in on the vagina and its environs, or it may expand to include more of the woman’s legs, torso and breasts. A glimpse of chin may be seen, but the face of the subject is never shown. Thus there is a startling blend of intimacy and emotional distance, a dichotomy that usually belongs more to the world of pornography than fine art. Yet Kupčíková is not attempting to shield the identity of her pubic-hair donors. In fact, there is a photo montage and also a video showing the women who contributed to the project and who additionally consented to having their faces, if not their full names, made public — which is perhaps why there are only eight drawings in the show. Playfully, the artist suggests that viewers might amuse themselves by trying to match the women pictured in the photo montage and video with the drawings. As Kupčíková explains in the introductory text for the exhibition, the project had its origins in a very personal gesture.

She was searching for an original gift to give her boyfriend on one of the monthly anniversaries of their first meeting. She decided to trim her own pubic hair and painstakingly shape the clippings into an erotic self-portrait. Her boyfriend’s enthusiastic and delighted response to the unusual present (he scanned the drawing and e-mailed it to his friends, asking them to guess what it was made from) inspired her to continue the series. But to do that she would need more pubic hair — much more than she herself would be able to cultivate. So Kupčíková began asking close friends and relatives for donations. She was surprised by the shocked reactions her request sometimes triggered, and so started to muse about various ways to go about getting the goods: Perhaps she could find a gynecologist to act as procurement agent, or place anonymous collection boxes in public places a la the Salvation Army. The story of the project’s origins and the artist’s musings about how to get more medium for her message is rather entertaining in itself (this text is only in Czech; however, there is a pamphlet for the exhibition in both Czech and English). The eight drawings are displayed in a tunnel-like housing, clear in its anatomical reference. The enclosure is conceived as a “mobile gallery” that can be moved to various locations and reconstructed. The cocooning of the drawings within this sculptural space within a space, with the video placed outside the tunnel, clearly marks a delineation between the private and public selves of women. It also separates the women’s intimate lives from their daily lives in the real world, just one of the polemics Kupčíková addresses in this series. This is the 30-year-old artist’s second solo show in Prague. The first one, in 2002–03, was held at Divadlo Komedie, aptly timed to coincide with the theatrical run of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. A second part of the current show consists of a video and pictures that explore the relationship between light, movement, sound and time. More abstract and heady, it is also less captivating than the pubic -hair portraits. The female nude has been standard fare in art for centuries, though pubic hair seldom appeared in Western painting until the 20th century. While Kupčíková’s drawings are certainly no more lewd than Gustave Courbet’s famous Origin of the World made in 1866, the hairy female pudenda still manages to rouse a reaction and provoke discussion 14 decades later.