Softgirls Only: Lindsay Hall’s Hedonistic Dreamscape

Image captured by Hannah Malina.

Image captured by Hannah Malina.

Beret Optional is a biweekly column exploring museums, art, and the way we access it in DC.

by Hannah Malina

Happy Valentine’s Day and happy Sex Week at the Rival!  There are a lot of ways you could get in the spirit of this week, but maybe you’re looking for a more cultural avenue.  Rather than looking through that zine of bad kink art your friend-with-benefits keeps tucked in between his records-sleeves, you could visit the International Arts & Artists (IA&A) at Hillyer in Dupont Circle, and see something a little more exciting.

When I read about Lindsay Hall’s exhibit Luscious and Pluscious, which will be at the IA&A at Hillyer until February 24, I was intrigued by its description of “palpable memories of things innocent and erotic, tasty and visceral, … regurgitated and playfully reinterpreted through an intuitive process that results in each candy colored morsel.”

The exhibit itself is an experiential, mixed-media installation: walk through the sparkly plastic curtain into a room as bright and pastel as a nursery, with stuffed pillow figures hanging from the ceiling, soft overhead, casting suggestive shadows at the wall behind them. Compact paintings of abstract shapes line the walls, their figures something like pink cupcakes with mossy fur dotting the surface. To walk into the room is to feel excited, to be overtaken by curiosity, to really really want to reach up and squeeze and touch all the surfaces around you, to see what they feel like.

The room is an intentional sensory overload, a bombardment of appealing textures and glimmering surfaces, and, yes, they do kinda look like penises and vaginas and boobs but only kinda. For all its lack of subtlety, the exhibit doesn’t actually try to hit you over the head with meaning.

But it’s about sex. Isn’t it?

I found myself constantly asking myself whether my mind was just in the gutter. If the artist’s statement hadn’t mentioned ‘pleasure, desire, and intimacy,’ I’d probably be too embarrassed to include those terms in this review. I’d say it was about like, childhood, or something, all while thinking in my mind about the strange gushiness of the figures, the overwhelming tactility, the pools of goo on the ground. I wouldn’t say it, but I would be thinking it. So maybe really, it’s about fantasy and imagination and play and fun, and the only area where we, as adults, really know how to feel those things anymore is sex, so it becomes about sex.  

The idea of sexuality is not the same as the cold hard (haha) reality of sex, which is so often not fun, actually. How quickly do women and girls, especially, internalize the idea that sex is uncomfortable and frightening? But in this pink and sparkly room, filled with stuffed animals and rainbows, sexuality is shiny and exciting, and it is also safe, which is actually wildly radical.

Sex can be reduced to so many dark undertones, so many series of traumas and whispered warnings, it’s jarring to be brought to a space that emphasizes the magical curiosity, the abstract fantasy that is sexuality. This sexuality is devoid of gender, of power, of bodies, of all the things we think about that can distract us from sexuality itself.

We’ve constructed sex as oppositional to innocence, but why? Isn’t sex one of the very few things that allows us to dig into a world of fantasy and detach from what is real and practical? In the candyland that Lindsay Hall has created, innocence comes from separating culturally-loaded concepts from the baggage we’ve placed on them, leaving joy, curiosity, and maybe arousal, in the purest sense of the word.