Frances Goodman’s recent exhibition, Nail Her, continued the artists exploration around ideas and practices of female beautification. Acrylic nails were the dominant medium in this body of work, meticulously applied in layers onto armatures to form writhing shapes – creatures – that appeared to slither around the gallery.
The snake-like shapes of the artworks make reference to Medusa, the Greek snake-haired goddess whose gaze turned men to stone. This is echoed in the main artwork, which derives from the Medieval folk legend of Melusine, the beautiful woman whose legs become serpent tails when she bathes. In both of these stories, it is the transgression of the women’s private space by a man that triggers their reptilian transformation. Beautiful maiden becomes cold-blooded fury – an embodiment of so-called female rage and hysteria. But these myths speak to the breaking of the sacred, an intrusion into the private, the violation of the female by the male. In using acrylic nails, the forms become armoured, protected, as well as empowered with hard talons to scratch and claw.
The amorphous forms of the artworks also suggest an oozing, seeping, creeping out – the abject being exorcised from the body. The beauty rituals of women – preening and performing for the male gaze – personified and cast off to grow into its own monstrous form. The collection of false eyelash ‘drawings’ that is part of this show reiterate the public/private tension – the course black of the lashes look like pubic hair, arranged to form images of wondering octopus tentacles, twisting horns, soft folds of flesh. They are an intricate portrait of womanhood.
The female form, whether it be coming into being, shifting and changing, laying itself bare, reacting or responding, beautifying, is the subject of this exhibition. The male gaze, however, is implicit in its very absence.