Sunday 23 October 2016

What lies beneath... Con

Con by Siobhan O'Callaghan, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist

Niall MacMonagle

Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30


Staring into space is good. But gawking at passers-by, goggling at people on the bus or in a queue, and looking for too long at people in a state of undress is a big no-no. Being stared at is unsettling. The look is often low, base, critical, negative. Do men stare more than women? Hard to say but Big Brother certainly upped gazing.

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People-watching is one thing; an electronic eye monitoring our movements is a whole new take on the stare. And then there's the Male Gaze, a phrase coined by film-critic Laura Mulvey in 1975 to describe how cinematography portrays women differently from men.

The camera frequently lingers on a woman's body for longer; she becomes an object of desire; the man dominates. Mulvey argues that in too many films and advertisements "men do the looking, and women are to be looked at."

And think of those ads where women drape themselves across a car; though scantily clad, they obviously know everything you'd need to know about what's beneath the bonnet.

But what about Siobhan O'Callaghan's painting Con? Here we have a 19-year-old, a - I'm told the word is "hot" - cool dude. Get lost boys, here's the female gaze. O'Callaghan deliberately tackles the sometimes dodgy territory of the semi-nude.

"My work", she says, "is about shape and form, exploitation, point of view, the body." Two months at a Cambodian yoga camp and studying now to become a yoga teacher, the body is something that she understands.

Prompted by photographs of her sibling, when younger at bath time, she positions him in a similar situation many years later. It's clear that her brother Con is careful with his diet. Seated on the edge of a bath against a tiled and mirror background, this chap, in his boxers, is seen from different angles. Jaw, abs, ribcage.

He is Mr Rugged, Mr Bronze, and at O'Callaghan's recent exhibition at NCAD, which Con attended, the painting drew admiring looks.

Women could stare and stare all they liked. And how did the man himself react? "Con unbuttoned his shirt a little more."

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