Artist Statement for Off Duty series

Is it possible to portray, evoke or allude to real emotions using source material that attempts to synthesize emotion?  These collages are created organically; the hands and arms are engaging with one another. There aren’t many hard edges, so it becomes easy to place them together, and the shapes of the limbs seem to naturally 'fall in' with each other. It’s as though they’re on a break from work, which in this case is adult magazines. They’re ‘Off Duty.’ 


Though I have a fascination regarding adult magazines, it is not borne out of fondness, but by how unbelievably synthetic they are.  I take the position of an outside observer, very much aware of their presence and influence on society, yet not part of the audience they are designed for. The world created by the imagery in adult magazines depicts staged performance, a fantasy, but so devoid of reality, that it is a fantasy that can never be attained. 


The hands and arms depicted were held hostage by the agency of adult magazines, I am cutting them free of that restraint. There is new life in them, it makes it accessible and real. Creating a playful intimacy with the arms and the hands- it's as though they are enjoying each other’s presence. On their own, they appear to be, natural, and full of life. A portrayal of intimate interactions with one another, without its original agency, suggests there is an instinctively need for close intimate contact between them.


I began to explore and detail my process with this series publicly in 2018. It was during this time that my work was deemed inappropriate and removed from a social media platform. The image in question had been taken from a pornographic magazine; however, I had excised all of the visible nudity. An algorithm picked up the shape of the model’s body and her facial expression. The image was flagged and the post removed. Only an arm and a portion of the leg were left in the picture. I made the decision fairly quickly: my next body of work would explore what had remained uncensored.


The materials I am using in the collages are from adult magazines from the 1980s through to the early 2000s, so the majority of the images in these magazines are outdated. They are a mix of glossy, colour pages and black-and-white newsprint, housing an endless supply of bodies that appear static and lifeless. They depict sexual acts in very specific ways - by doing this it perpetuates stereotypes and false expectations. They are vacant of vulnerability, exploration, intimacy and affection. Because of this deliberate exclusion in the source materials, it further creates an artificial representation of what is considered intimate. 


In order to have a healthy conversation about intimacy, there has to be a safe, positive environment to do so. The 'Off Duty' series collages provide a curiosity element within its own space. Sexual knowledge is not a given. Different lived experiences shape that knowledge and how we engage with sex and our sexual natures. To enter into a conversation about sex is to reveal the disparity between our knowledge and that of others. 'Off Duty' invites you to enter that conversation.


Emma Lehto