Charlotte Colbert, The Artist Using 3-D Technology To Subvert The Male Gaze

Charlotte Colbert, The Artist Using 3-D Technology To Subvert The Male Gaze

Charlotte Colbert current show at UNIT9 is dedicated to a single large-scale, moving image and mixed media sculpture depicting a reworking of Lucien Freud’s iconic portrait of Sue Tilley.

“I break up the body parts as an expression of our relationship to the world, which is a very fractured one. Screens play a role in that- the fractured self- is due in part, to our relationship with technology.”

Colbert’s sculpture- despite its dominating presence and cyborgian post-apocalyptic form- is beautifully tender; creating a soothing sense of a familial and palpable human presence. The film element shows Sue’s bisected body naturally moving; shallow breaths forming in the stomach, encouraging the breasts to fall and rise- captured with life-size clarity, as are toe twitches, and the alarming moment when Sue snaps her eyes open, greeting the viewer with a respective gaze.

I asked Charlotte how her Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sculpture came to fruition, the artist had tracked down Tilley and was remarkably given access to Freud’s studio before it was gutted for good- “the paint splatters on the floorboards would’ve been the same as when Sue sat before.” Sue hadn’t been to the studio for 20 years, “going up the stairs, laying her body in a particular way brought her back to the original experience with Freud.” Was it nostalgic for her? I asked- “No, when she sat for him it was nine months and I think it was quite torturous for her. He was very intense.”

Psychoanalysis is a clear strand of interest within Charlotte’s work, she’s currently preparing some pieces for another upcoming show, which involves artists reworking and painting phallic forms. Charlotte’s contributions are remodelled phallic sculptures sheathed in tactile furry fabrics, which she has entitled “Womb Envy” a combative stance against Sigmund Freud’s now widely discredited but pervasive Penis Envy theory.

“With Sigmund and the birth of early psychoanalysis, so much of it seems to be more to do with his own issues, rather than his patients. A lot of it is projection. In the same way, portraits are often so much more to do with the artist rather than the sitter. Which is what is amazing about using moving-image, you get more of a response from the model. There’s a point where Sue opens her eyes and it feels like she’s judging you almost.”

For me that is what’s so powerful about the piece; it feels as if it purposefully disrupts the traditional relationship structure between voyeur and subject- that historically has been so problematic in its distribution of power. I asked Charlotte whether she felt the piece is so sensitive due to the nature of it being formed from a female gaze, “I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it like that. I don’t know whether the female gaze is any less imprisoning than a male gaze, because there’s always a form of objectification at play, just by looking at someone.”

Charlotte’s piece depicting Sue Tilley naturally encourages such questions on the relations between viewer and subject- intimacy and surveillance. Indebted to the history of art but entirely contemporary and forward thinking in its form.

‘Benefit Supervisor Sleeping’ by Charlotte Colbert runs until the 18th Feb at UNIT9, Ebor S

Written by Charlie Siddick,


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