New York based artist Leah Schrager is known for using overt eroticism in her new media work. She uses her own sexualized image to wildly subvert the concept of the "selfie" while making a vital statement about feminism and the "self" in the digital age.
Schrager first came to prominence under the pseudonym Sarah White, better known as the "Naked Therapist." This bold combination of internet-based performance art and genuine healing therapy achieved notoriety because Schrager (as Sarah White) and the patient could end up completely naked by the end of the session. Also the artist/therapist gave the patient permission to masturbate if they so desired. The very personal nature of the project and the fact that the practice quickly became salacious tabloid fodder created unique issues for Schrager as both a digital artist and an "IRL" human being:
It’s wild to be clickbait and the source of much online love and hate! But since therapy is private, it’s a practice I have not been able to share in the art world very fully. Celebrity is by definition a level of publicness, and I’m interested in exploring this as an art practice. I think anyone presenting themselves in an online profile has some level of media exposure and interaction, and I think it’s a defining characteristic of what it is to be alive today. So I’m hoping to more methodically explore this in my art. Controversy is hard to take sometimes, since while I’d hope it would stay online it also unfortunately happens in my personal life.
This desire to “document, share, and artify virality” was also the genesis for Ona. Ona is the name of the latest of Schrager’s many “onas” (short for online personas). She is a “an artist, musician and dancer who evolved out of the question of celebrity as art practice.” Ona released the brilliant EP Sex Rock in February and has a huge Instagram following (the true indicator of modern celebrity). Schrager sees the project as “culmination and integration” of her “music, art, and pro-sex social message” and she expects it to last for 4 to 5 years:
It’s me growing up on the web somewhat—the early days were more about anonymity of chatrooms and now it's about building a brand. Also in 2010 going viral on the Internet meant real traffic, but now a social media empire is essential to traffic (and I’m very interested in traffic, click-bait, interaction). I’m not assuming to know the answer, but I’m asking a lot of questions and facing the challenges of both how to create a celebrity and how [it can] be an intentional art practice. I also hope that in going through this slut-shaming publicly I can help other women know they are not alone and recognize the conservatism of the action. And I hope to promote joy and beauty in all genders exploring sexuality.
Schrager’s art holds a distinct and valuable feminist message but, because of it’s "erotic" nature, has not always been embraced by other feminists. This is something that both troubles and motivates the artist and her work:
I think that the self is sexual, so desexualizing it as many artists do is one kind of art, but I also think that art should represent a diversity of experiences, and that should include art that also has a sexual angle! I think female sexuality and what a woman may or may not do is such a hot and important topic right now. I’m just shocked by how much I’ve been told that I may not be sexy and an artist at the same time. And I just think that message is hypocritical and puritanical especially coming from the art world. So where I see hypocrisy I just can’t help but push and try to prove them wrong. I see people performing on the Internet in and out of the art context as true frontrunners in female art and feminism. I wish that all feminists could accept and support the whole range of female expression—and not christen some appropriate and others not. This to me would be a very welcome emergence in feminism.
We run an online magazine, so of course, we're interested in what's happening with art on the web. We invited online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, to write a bi-monthly column for us. Every other Wednesday he'll be selecting a Web Artist of the Week.
(All images: Courtesy of Leah Schrager)