I was out for a walk the other day and, quite by chance, came across this challenging and exhilarating piece by the Scottish street artist Fiona Menzies-Cunningham. Her graffiti work, currently on view at various locations around Glasgow, is charged with powerful ideas which force us to think about the nature of power, oppression and patriarchy.
This piece is both menacing and playful because of the way the artist uses the reductive quality of her motifs to spatially undermine the exploration of our response to discursive trans-misogynistic violence. For what it's worth, my reading is that the 'left to right' running order of C to the power 4 would be: white privilege (leading to) toxic masculinity (which in turn leads to) Trump (which is accompanied by) Brexit, but I know that other interpretations are available. One is teased, for instance, by the ambiguous calligraphy of that last cunt on the right; it might actually be 'Clint', which could be an allusion to misogyny and homophobia in Hollywood westerns.
Menzies-Cunningham, by refusing to exhibit in bourgeois galleries, is one of the few modern artists willing to make resonant her participation in a genuine critical dialogue around toxic masculinity and white hegemony by taking art to the people. Her free-to-view graffiti skillfully interpolates notions of power, class and sexuality into a cultural paradigm which not only transcends materialism, but rages against the malignant logic of the hetero-patriarchal male gaze, all the while acknowledging that social constructs (like gender) are part of the fatal flaw of language and can only be mediated by heuristic approaches to ontological inquiry.
This piece, entitled C to the power 4, is located near Knightswood Park and has already attracted quite a bit of attention. The first thing one notices is that she has chosen to adorn a building in which the windows are protected by wire mesh. The curtains are permanently drawn, a perfect illustration of Brexit Britain's closed-mindedness and isolationism. Each window is, in fact, a unique 'territory' marked by an individual 'cunt'.
At first glance, these four cunts appear to be more or less identical, but closer inspection reveals a devious simplicity in the remarkable way that Menzies-Cunningham manages light. There is a certain morbid fluidity to the brushstrokes, a subtle grading of rage, the insidious chiaroscuro forcing us to acknowledge and confront the nature of oppression. There is an almost subaqueous quality to the spatial relationship between the individual letters in each word, but one might also say that the space between the cunts, the lucid purity of those gaps, delineates a rigorous substructure of deeply critical thinking.
We expect each cunt to offer a glimpse into its own hellish world, but when we try to look through these windows there is no ‘view’ to be had. The mesh, the glass and the grey curtains merely confront us with a brutal reflection of our own opaque paranoia. It would be relatively straightforward to interpret these cunts as being the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Trump, Brexit, toxic masculinity and white privilege), but a closer examination forces us to consider the subtleties of the artist's worldview. There is a sense in which these cunts visually and conceptually activate a distinctive formal juxtaposition, asking us to consider whether culture really is interchangeable with truth; only from such a position (which is, surely, a position of trust), can one truthfully forge a constructive feminine paradigm of legitimate expression.
C to the power 4 bridges the gap between our notion of 'the powerful' and our everyday lived experience. Through the disjunctive perturbation of this negative space, Menzies-Cunningham has asked questions to which we previously had no answers and provided answers where previously there had been no questions. Her beautifully congruent synthesis of consciousness and narrative presents us with a stark choice: succumb to the oppressive constructs of patriarchy or embrace the liberating paradox of fragmentation within an inter-sectional landscape. It is now, surely, time for us to foreground the intrinsic apparatus of equity within a renewed, empowered, 'higher' consciousness in which cunts can only be understood within the critical framework of dialectical third-wave feminism.