Maria Izabella Lehtsaar and Sarah Nomm
Beauty in the Belly of the Beast
With their duo exhibition Beauty in the Belly of the Beast, Maria Izabella Lehtsaar & Sarah Nomm focus on their shared interests towards intimacy, sexual self-expression and various representations of love and violence between people. Current exhibition is based on the concept of bedroom as a place where one can rest, dream, feel pleasure and fear. It is also a place where one reads texts that shape us as human beings and creators and the place where meetings for this collaboration have taken place. The “bedroom activities” form a socially controversial subject. This place is intimate and reveals the nuances about us that are private and make us vulnerable. It is something that entirely belongs to oneself and at the same time is completely shared with the dearest ones. And yet, not all bedrooms are safe – besides softness, there could also be violence experienced under the roof of love. The artworks at the present duo exhibition have been inspired by the contradictions related to the intimacy of a bedroom where the expressive means of tenderness and harshness are intertwined. For instance, Nomm's artwork “Little Switch” refers to a whip as an object with the purpose of hurting, that can be read in several ways. On one hand, it is an object of power and violence that is used for punishing disobedient bodies; on the other hand, the whip has its place in sexual practices where harshness, care and pleasure are combined. Lehtsaar's new linocut works “Pillow Princess” and “Unknown Pleasures” continue expanding the artist's visual queer vocabulary. “Loveless V” is their final addition to the series on the subject of boxing as self-defense and self-love, while also referring to their attempt to challenge gendered stigmatization of extreme or violent sports. Nomm's installation “Untie My Ribbons” is inspired by non-normative romantic relationships that won't classify under the seemingly obligatory relationship form of monogamy. Through the cuddly weapons from the series “The Softest Touch” and the pictures completed by manual typesetting titled “Queer Scissors I II III”, Lehtsaar observes the world of signs related to lesbianism while in some cases using it for self-empowerment and in other cases ironically repeating uniform stereotypes to absurdity. Less accepted experiences of intimacy under the bedroom motif often need justification for their existence. In this case, the justification is provided by a collective diary, kept by the artists and the curators, that is presented in the exhibition space. The diary serves as a platform for sharing personal stories on the topics discussed at the current exhibition. It reflects on a long-term creative process of four people – the first outcome of which was the exhibition Hardcore Gentleness in the Vent Space project room in 2022. The stories of the interwoven destinies of a beauty and a beast are as old as our civilization. These usually begin with the imprisoned princess and end with marrying the prince who has killed the dragon. Sometimes these stories have also been told from the point of view of a princess with a higher agency, revealing for instance that the prince might be even more monstrous than the dragon, or that the princess could save herself on her own, or will choose another partner in life. Yet these stories won't tell us anything about the daily life of the new couple nor the fact that there are beasts sleeping underneath their bed. Beauty in the Belly of the Beast attempts to offer more diverse narratives about intimacy and to enrich the common ground for mutual understanding while emphasizing the importance of safe experiences to people's welfare.
Brigit Arop and Anita Kodanik