Last year, we covered Phoenix-based artist Samantha Lyn Aasen’s exhibition Sparkle Baby’s Slumber Party. That show comprised mainly her photography, along with some video that featured Aasen herself in dual roles – one being the show’s namesake, Sparkle Baby. In that particular pink and glittery world – styles that the artist loves to embrace – the timeless ritual of the slumber party was examined. Beyond that, the show explored the dynamics of friendship between girls during the ever-complex passage through those often grueling tween and teen years.
In her latest exhibition, Modern Merkin, Aasen again addresses girlhood, but where Sparkle Baby was rooted in a youthful time zone, this show emphasizes the move into womanhood and finding a balance between the two places. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of pink and loads of glitz.
Merkin is an extension of Aasen’s Vajazzle series, which features photos of the artist’s own vagina adorned with different types of decorative elements. Fancying up one’s mons pubis area is known as “vajazzling,” and here, that’s just what you’ll see.
Each photo is shot to only focus on that area of the body. If Aasen didn’t reveal that she vajazzles and photographs herself, there wouldn’t be anything else to make that distinction – these are close-up shots. The reason for that is not only that the artist likes to fully understand firsthand the workings of the things that interest her, it’s also that she’s not interested in “putting my mark on others.”
What she’s chosen to mark herself with this time is indeed a multitude of colorful and festive trinkets, many of them easily leading to varying interpretations. For instance, tiny baby figurines strategically positioned around mini pacifiers are commonly considered cute, but this one could also serve as awareness-raising for reproductive rights – especially important during such crucial political times.
A mons pubis covered in thick, colorful glitter is dazzling and festive, while its glassy depth and sharp nature make it a little more intense. It’s like life – complicated. Other items you’ll see vajazzled include electric pink frosting, candy hearts and faux diamonds.
Aasen first found herself fascinated with this type of self-décor back in 2014. “I saw the actress Jennifer Love Hewitt on a talk show,” Aasen says, “and she was talking about how vajazzling was an empowering act for her. I got intrigued and obsessed with finding all the information about it that I could.”
In addition to the empowering feeling vajazzling brings to some, Aasen also likes that it’s fun and silly. She has even embraced the practical aspects, looking at objects and wondering, “Is this something I could glue to myself?” And in trying it out, she got a taste of how vajazzling can be kind of impractical. “I think that’s why it has had a buzz, but never really took off,” she says. “It’s not always very comfortable. Some of the items, like the diamonds, for example, are sharp and pokey. Sometimes things fall off, and not at the best times.”
Aasen may not want to put her mark on you, but she’s fine with you adorning her. In her brilliant interactive portion of the exhibition, you can sit down at a computer and play DIYVAJAZZLE. The game that she created allows the user to pull animated gifs from a side bar and drag them to the bare pubic mound on screen. Flashy graphics and slogans encourage the player to beautify that mound as they see fit. Not happy? Press the “start over” button and have another go around.
Obsessive research is at the core of Aasen’s work, and it pays off. Her exhibitions are sincere and complete; her compositions, keen and rewarding. She attributes that trait of digging into subjects with ferocity to having been a lonely kid. Then and now, she turned it into a major motivator. In those early days, she followed her interests down internet rabbit holes to their depths. Maybe it’s also why, when viewers expect her to feel bare or exposed, she doesn’t think twice about revealing herself. She notes that “this particular part of me is not at all the most vulnerable.”
Aasen also sees the show as a bit of a “f*ck you” to some of the art censoring she’s seen happen recently. Of course, to some, her show is controversial. “People think it’s sexual,” she says, “which it’s not, but in any case, it’s art and art is not to be censored.” She noted that signage on the on the door leading to the exhibition points out that the show features nudity, following that “warning” with one directive: Enjoy.
Through September 10
Eye Lounge in downtown Phoenix