Flight of fancy
In this photo, Lilly McElroy is throwing herself at a man. Literally. She is an arrow shot from a bow, her calf muscles bulging, her lips pursed with the effort, her chest thrust forward between her outstretched arms. This is a kamikaze leap, a here-goes-nothing moment, so utterly serious that it becomes parody. The fellow at whom she is throwing herself appears to understand that he is under attack, that he has no chance of catching her, that everyone is watching, that this woman will possibly break his bones, that it will hurt. He does not look particularly strong. He is not very fashionable. In just a moment she will strike him like a pigeon flying headlong into a window.
From 2006 to 2008, McElroy, an American artist born in 1979, placed ads on craigslist.com seeking men willing to meet her in bars and allow her to throw herself at them.
This photograph is the third in a superb series of 12 images, all called "I Throw Myself at Men" in which she hurls herself at the men who answered the ad. And you can see that despite their preparation, or perhaps because of it, the men are very surprised.
McElroy has a sense of humor. These flights onto people are clownish, slapstick, physical humor (Her last work from 2009 - "I Kicked a Dog" - is a gigantic cartoon-like depiction of herself after making a kicking motion, and a massive dog up in the air - both made of papier-mache and acrylic ).
But mere entertainment cannot explain the way this photograph works. Throwing yourself at a man is an act of despair, and no woman can look at this photograph without asking herself if this is what she's doing in her own life. Lilly McElroy is illustrating a hysterical reaction and exposing a total misunderstanding women have in connection to their relationships with men. As an artist, McElroy is focused on action. But in the real world, is flinging yourself at someone really preferable to submissiveness? And another, substantive, question: Can assertiveness of the kind McElroy suggests really substitute for speech in women? Language speaks louder than throwing.
The entire project was photographed in bars that look like backdrops in a David Lynch movie - the pool tables, dim lighting, the cheap paneling on the walls, the dirty wall-to-wall carpet - all tell an American story. McElroy, who grew up in southern Arizona, studied for a master's degree in art in Tucson and Chicago, and currently has works on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (in an exhibition in which Sigalit Landau is also taking part ), explains on her website how the aesthetics of these regions influenced her. In another interview, she spoke of her admiration for Cormac McCarthy, David Foster Wallace (whose book "Infinite Jest" she thinks about every day, though she didn't finish reading it ) and Tina Fey's "30 Rock" TV show.
Thus, this photograph also illustrates her profound interest in popular culture, her ability to combine a highbrow attitude toward this experience with a lowbrow aesthetic. This is a local, specific photograph, but when you reflect upon it, its nature and quality are also captured in these words that were written across the ocean:
Different and the same
With each it is different and the same
With each the absence of love is different
With each the absence of love is the same
This is a poem by Samuel Beckett. The moment McElroy stops being funny, her photograph begins to speak of the absurd.