Beyond the diet coke moments of advertising or Sex and the City anecdotes, the female gaze and heterosexual women’s interest in the male body is not something that has successfully embedded itself into contemporary culture and our visual language. While advertising and magazines aimed at women purport to know what it is that women want, female desire and the act of looking remains mysterious territory. Many feminist artists and curators have looked to redressing this, turning the female eye on men mainly through the camera, but also in painting and other media. Still, our understanding of heterosexual male fantasy remains predominant in this culture with page 3 models, airbrushing and ‘girl on girl action’ at the fore. Francesc Ruiz’s first solo exhibition in London turns all of this on its head.
He has transformed the front of Gasworks gallery into a sex shop. The result of his research into the local area and the longstanding gay establishments there, this sex shop is a bookshop specialising in homoerotic comic books – yaoi comic books. Originating in Japan, this genre (translated as 'boys love') depicts male homoerotic narratives. However, unlike male-oriented gay erotica, yaoi comic books are both produced and consumed by women. The comics are coded with stickers: a pearl for stories about platonic relationships, a rose indicating pure and consummated love, a diamond for hardcore sex and a yellow beer sticker for stories influenced by alcohol or drugs. The exhibition is playful and although influenced by manga, the fictional illustrators are amateurs trying to develop their own style.
There is a real sense that the artist enjoyed making this work, engaging with the locality and working with the female staff at Gasworks– turning them into his yaoi creators. The comics are available for sale and printed on the back of one that I took home is the phrase ‘no climax, no point, no meaning’, a phrase that Wikipedia tells me is a "euphemism for the content". Gasworks Yaoi is anything but this, with its exploration into sexuality and narrative, it challenges stereotypes through an imaginative interplay between sub-culture and the mainstream.
-- Joyce Cronin, writer living in London
(Images: Francesc Ruiz, Gasworks Yaoi (2010), installation shot.All images courtesy the artist and Gasworks. Photographs Kristel Raesaar)