Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Visual art: Paige Gratland

Fun & fearless female virility

Paige Gratland’s The Celebrity Lezbian Fist is an edition of 10 silicone dildos made from casts of the clenched fists of 10 “famous” lesbians including JD Samson, Savoy Howe and Harmony Hammond. The fists launch on Sat, Jun 21 at Art Metropole; each edition retails for $250.

Not exactly household names, the lezzie celebs venerated here have each achieved cult status in their respective fields, ranging from rock and roll (LA-based punk-cum-folk singer Phranc and legendary Fifth Column singer GB Jones) to academia (gender/queer theorist Jack/Judith Halberstam).

“I’m not actually interested in getting Ellen or Rosie,” says Gratland. “There is a bit of a turn on the idea of celebrity,” she says, noting that Ellen, “rarely makes a sexual innuendo” and that for the project she chose women “based in a kind of radical existence.”

Gratland previously challenged notions of celebrity and beauty in a 2005 work called The Sontag, a limited edition of hair-extensions modelled after the iconic grey streak of author and theorist Susan Sontag. With flashy packaging advertising “feminist hair wear,” The Sontag was distributed through artist-run centre Art Metropole and functioned as a fashion-accessory cum art object celebrating Sontag’s queer-cultural legacy.

Earlier projects include Free Dance Lessons, a social experiment with Toronto-based artist Day Milman where the duo started spontaneous dance parties in civic spaces such as the subway or sidewalk outside Hooter’s, and Donut Hoes, where Gratland and Toronto expat Rayne Baron (aka Ladyfag) produced plush-fabric donuts with intricate beadwork, mail-ordered from Art Met to such dignitaries as the Governor General of Canada. Gratland says her work often starts with a found object which she finds meaningful, then exploits and remodels according to what she calls a “feminist gay aesthetic.” The Tit Pin project was inspired by a 1970s joke-store pin picturing a woman’s naked breasts discovered by a friend in a Guelph thrift store. In a photo-booth installed at galleries, parties and art fairs, participants in the project had their breasts (male or female) photographed and rendered on one-inch pins, one of which they could take home as a fashion accessory exposing their own naked chest, and one of which the artist kept for her collection.

In a similarly collaborative and kinky vein, Celebrity Lezbian Fist is inspired by the work of infamous rock-groupie and art student Cynthia Plaster Caster. Plaster Caster gained notoriety in the groovy ’60s, convincing heavy rockers such as Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and Jimi Hendrix to let her cast their penises in plaster for her own personal, er, usage.

“I really liked her approach,” says Gratland. “Here’s this young girl getting in the dressing rooms of these rock’n’roll idols and getting them to stick their dicks in some messy liquid for her art project. It’s really turning the tables!”

Taking a cue from Plaster-Caster, Gratland sought out her own heroes and convinced them to act as models for her project. Noting that replicas of pornstars such as Ron Jeremy and Jeff Stryker’s cocks are readily available on the market, Gratland chose to enter the homes and workspaces of her heroes and take home moldings of their fists. The resulting silicone art objects are a symbol of resistance and militancy that are also jiggly, bendable and decidedly sexy.

“There were multiple reasons I was attracted to the fist,” says Gratland. “As a queer person any move away from the cock is kind of exciting as a sex object. I wanted to play with it as a symbol of radical resistance and political struggle but also as a sex toy drawing attention to female virility.

“The idea of women’s sexuality and lesbian sexuality is often soft, like heavy petting,” says Gratland. “My experience of lesbian, gay or queer sex has been much more powerful. It’s based on a whole other track of living and experience — pushing things to the limit, figuring out what your boundaries are.”

The clenched fist image has a long history, utilized in graphic art for more than a century as a symbol of resistance and unity in the iconography of Mexican labour groups, The Black Panthers and the 1968 Stop the Draft campaign in San Francisco.

“In conversations about this project with straight men, many of them won’t even catch the sexual reference,” laughs Gratland. “I’ve heard a lot of straight men say, ‘Oh, lesbian sex. Well, who fucks who? And where’s the penis? And just wait till you get a real cock and you’ll turn back. You’re not getting fucked right cuz your partner doesn’t have a cock.'” In response to such comments Gratland claims all she needs to do is put up her fist and say, “Really? You can outperform this?”

Gratland says her latest work “subverts the notion of power and virility associated with the phallus and places it on the fist, a symbol of queer sex, activism and artistry.”