In 2006 a visitor attraction in London, called 'Amora -The Academy of Sex and Relationships' commissioned me to make a wall of casts of genitals and breasts. I titled it The Spice of Life. The intention was, in a small survey, to demonstrate the variety of shapes and sizes. They were going to do it with photos but a journalist who had interviewed me about genital casting was doing research for them and suggested doing it my way. They got very excited.
18 men and women were cast for the project. The wanted me to cast the men both hard and soft and for balance I cast the women with legs together and legs apart. The difference between these was as profound as with the men. The pairs of casts were arranged in the panel next to each other so these different states could be compared as well as the difference from person to person. I also cast many pairs of breasts for the project, which are arranged to break up the genital casts.
It took months to find models who represented the range of penis sizes from the largest to the smallest. In truth large ones were as hard to find as small ones. It was a very weird time. Casting cocks was not why I went to art school! Nobody, however, had any expectations of the variety of vulvas. We just cast the women who came with the men. Interestingly though it was this that led to The Great Wall of Vagina.
I’d been working on a panel of vulva casts for a while but it was one of many projects I was doing. I found the variety and the shock value interesting. It had no great social purpose. What happened though I had included a cast of my own penis amongst the 17 other men I had to cast for the project. Having all these casts lined up in the studio was the first time I'd had the opportunity to compare my erection to other men's. It’s human nature to want to know where we fit in and what other people are like. We are curious creatures. That exercise completely took away any anxiety I may have had about whether I was 'normal'. My only reference up to that point had been pornography and those penises do tend to be rather on the large side. I’d always felt inadequate in comparison so this was quite an epiphany.
What also happened was that the women coming to be cast for this sculpture were looking at the casts of other women's vulvas and were having a similar epiphany. They were saying things like, "Oh my God! I had no idea they looked so different" and "I wish mine looked like that one" and "I feel better about mine now". I realised that just as comparing a cast of my penis to casts of other men had a positive effect on my self-esteem, so too was this process just as powerful for women.
As an artist with a keen political edge this represented an opportunity to make something meaningful and life changing. The vagina panel project graduated to my main pursuit and the rest is history:
Amora didn’t last and it disappeared as fast as it had arrived. They closed and I have never discovered what happened to The Spice of Life. They never even credited me with the work. If anyone knows what happened to it I’d love to know…
Next entry: Vagina Panels