The title of this exhibition by Gianna Dispenza emerged while making the artworks that feature. A warning with this exact notice came into view upon a hanging sign in the car park where Dispenza was spraying her forthcoming charcoal works with a flammable fixative. The ‘Naked Light,’ Dispenza acknowledges with some hesitation, could have incinerated her, unifying the artworks with her own being: “I’d have become charcoal too, like all of the pieces.”
Demonstrated here to some extent, charcoal as a medium is indicative of mortality. Its transient quality, so sensitive to touch, makes charcoal reminiscent of that which is fleeting. Dispenza is skilled in her manipulation of the material, using it both to depict ephemeral shadows and the shapes of feminine forms. The medium and the concept of the artwork itself are so acutely intertwined, each one informing and making sense of the other, even down to the science. Dispenza explains: “Charcoal has a similar property to a naked light. It will combust when it’s mixed with potassium nitrate and sulphur (that’s gunpowder) and when it’s activated, it purifies.” Whilst the chemistry and properties of charcoal are part of the presentation, the audience is also confronted with an unapologetic illustration of the female nude: a familiar image, long examined in art history.
‘Naked Light’ presents a body of work that began as a series of questions. The artist asked herself “what has been repeatedly reinforced or overlooked in depictions of the ‘seated’ or ‘reclining’ woman?” The deeper Dispenza studied nudes by Manet, Ingres, Rubens and others, the clearer the vacancies in history’s narrative became—women and their bodily functions have been erased or overlooked not only in artistic depictions of the female form, but also in history, medicine, economics and so much more. By illustrating certain authentic functions of the female body, like breastmilk, birth, and the reproductive system, Dispenza’s ‘Naked Light’ shifts the conversation from the “male gaze” to the “real body” therein moving emphasis away from the commonly eroticized experience of artist-viewing-sitter to a holistic experience of the sitter herself.