Porno Parody: In search of Pat Larter


Sunday School


Porno Parady

 

 

Dear Pat,

I thought you should know that I have been going through your things. I have been flicking through your letters and rummaging through your old photographs.

Your collection of mail art is now stored in 48 boxes in the archives of the Art Gallery of NSW. These small packages that criss-crossed through the post from London, New York, and back to you in Yass are now bound together under your name: The Pat Larter Archive.

When Kelly and I arrived at the Gallery we were searching for you, looking for what you had left behind. We began by scrolling through the index of your archive. Every box is numbered and named, their contents described in precise detail. We read through the descriptions and put in our request.

Box 23 arrived. A box of US mail art from the 1970s.

As I began to look through the packages addressed to you, I wondered when you last held these documents in your hands. Did you look at them often? Or did you pack them away once they had arrived?

Kelly said it reminded her of going through her mother’s old drawers. “It’s weird,” she said. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

I picked out a package and noticed the way it had carefully been opened. I pulled out the contents—a book of mail art with a note attached.

 

Dear Pat,

Thanks for the information.

Good luck for the future.

Regards,

Kathy Thompson

 

In the past, this was your future, but now the moment has passed.

Yours,

Diana

 

 

Pat Larter 12

 

 

Dear Pat,

While leafing through the traces of your life, letters and photos, I was so overwhelmed by the feeling of loss. The loss of you and your memory. The absence of your mail art that has been sent to thousands of people around the world. I wish you were here so we could talk about ‘Femail Art’, your feminist answer to mail art. I want to talk about how you created a type of feminist rhizome that interconnected across the world. I want to talk to you about you. About exposure and intimacy. About portals, punk, Fluxus and cunts.

Yours,

Kelly

 

 

Pat Larter 2

 

Pat Larter 9

 

 

Dear Pat,

I found a big, brown package with a red stamp addressed to ‘Pat and Dick’:

Art—Please do not Fold

Who is Dick, I thought. Kelly was wondering the same thing. “Who is Dick?” she asked. And then I realised. “Dick is Richard Larter,” I said.

Dick was the genius male painter and you were his muse. But you were more than that. You were on your own track, a radical, doing your own thing out in the bush. However, that’s not quite how you are remembered Pat, even now.

Yours,

Diana

 

 

Pat Larter 4

 

 

Dear Pat,

I found your address book bursting with your ripped and yellowed notes. You had written “Official Mailing List” in red running writing on the front page.

Diana and I marvelled over the hundreds of colour coded alphabetical entries from across the world:

Janet Edminson, Canada

Flavio Ermini, Italy

Marconi Edison, Brazil

Jesus R.G Escobar, Mexico

Werner Elbrect, West Germany

On August 10 you received 179 replies. On August 17, 216 replies. Evidence that you were one of Australia’s most active mail artists. Later in an essay I discover that you started making mail art in 19741. This was the same year that the women’s art movement was beginning in Sydney.

Mail art…what is it Pat?

I pick up a letter from the East German Postal Collective dated 30 September 1985. In a clash of fonts they inform me Mail Art is simultaneously private and public art. In the ethos of Dada, Futurism, Surrealism and Fluxus, Mail Art is not an end in itself but a matrix for experiments. As they put it, Mail Art “…ranges between brilliant to awful. But so what?!”2

I find another mail artwork; this one is from William the Worm. He insists you make direct contact through the postal system. As he proclaims, “AFTER ART…POST ART. DON’T DESPOND! CORRESPOND!”3

Underneath you have responded:

1 o’clock.

OVEN 350

Did you agree with William the Worm when he said all that matters is insanity and inane profundity?

Yours,

Kelly

 

Pat Larter 10.1

 

Pat Larter 10. 2

 

Pat Larter 10.3

 

Pat Larter 10.4

 

Dear Pat,

I found another package addressed to you. I imagined you opening it with a small paper knife. I looked closely to see if there was any trace of you, any fingerprints or marks. I pulled out a catalogue titled, First Los Angeles Erotic Mail Art Show from 1980. A stamp on the back of the catalogue requested an ‘Orgasmic Response’. I wondered what you sent in return, in this call-and-response game you played.

I imagined these little pieces of you that had been sent in the post. I wondered if your work had made its way into museums in other parts of the world. Looking through all these letters, I started to wonder where you had gone. Kelly wanted to know too. “Where is Pat?” she asked. Your name was on all the envelopes, but where was your work?

I turned to the librarian and asked her, “Where is Pat?” She looked at me and traced out my words with her own.

“Where is Pat?” she said slowly, trying to figure it out.

“Sorry,” I said. “I mean, where is Pat’s work?”

Now she understood. She disappeared and returned with several boxes filled with your work.

The scent of you was still there Pat, lurking in the notebooks and in between photo albums. Here you were, in full exposure—pants down, legs spread and that signature Pat Larter grin.

Yours,

Diana

 

 

Pat Larter 8

 

 

Dear Pat,

I like your mail art—collaged newspapers, erotic cartoons, roughly cut Marilyn Monroe’s, women giving head and smoking. But things became more curious when we find a heap of your photo albums from the late 1970s. Under studio lights, you don a top hat and not much else. Another one. Painted like a zebra in full body paint replete with black heels; your entire naked body is spread limply like a sad starfish.

You are known as subject and muse to your husband Dick. But here you are, performing for me. Titles of performances intersect the images: Pat Performs ArmPats, Pat Larter in Portrait, Porno Parody. It’s unsettling as I leaf through the countless albums of your direct stare in girdles and garters. Open legs, open mouth, eyes, tongue and cunt. A crass Benny Hill humour with a toothy grin as if to say, “Here it ‘tis, come on board!”

A final image stays with me. You are bleached out completely and I can barely make out your face as you squint into the lens, only the darkest slits remain. Outspread, you are inviting us in. Who are these images for Pat? Did you send these pictures in the mail? There is something lingering here. I begin to wonder, was your cunt a portal to another time and place?

Much love,

Kelly

 

MS19991.1014.5##M

 

 

Pat Larter 3

 

Dear Pat,

As I looked through the black and white photos, you seemed to transform from page to page, from a ballerina to a superhero in a flowing cape. I am reminded of artists like Eleanor Antin and Martha Wilson, who transformed themselves through costume and make-up in order to mock stereotypes of femininity.

I turned the page and found a series of images of you lying on a patterned rug—the camera is above you, your legs are open but you are laughing. As I looked closer, I noticed a collaged text overlayed on your stomach: The deeper you go, the more interesting it becomes.

I went deeper into the box, flicking through images of you and Dick.

I’ve seen your films Pat. Like the photos, Dick is usually the one behind the camera, but it is clear that you are driving the performance.

Did you ever see Carolee Schneemann’s film Fuses (1964)? I can see similarities. Shot in her house and from the perspective of her cat Kitch, Schneemann collaged together erotically charged scenes with her partner James Tenney. Schneemann wanted to represent sex as a form of intimacy—something that captured her own experience. Importantly, like your films, it departs from the placelessness and timelessness that characterises much pornography. However, your work is underscored with a mocking self-awareness that makes me equally uncomfortable.

Is that what makes it so hard to watch Pat? I am left wondering if I should be looking at these images of you and Dick, but at the same time I can’t turn away.

Yours,

Diana

 

 

Pat Larter 6

 

 

Dear Pat,

The last piece I come across is a photo of you and Dick smiling into the camera with a rubber stamped poem underneath:

Self Exposure

Bulk Head-Epic-Art Fool

Femail Art

Femail Art

Femail Art

Femail Art

Self Exposure

Self Exposure

Self Exposure

Femail Art

Oh Pun Legs

Femail Art

Oh Pun Legs

Femail Art

Joanna Mendelssohn has said among the works by Richard Larter in the National Gallery of Australia, four works are catalogued as ‘Femail Art 1975’. According to Mendelssohn you originated the term ‘Femail Art’. She adds that you are the sole author of at least one of these works and a collaborator on the other three. However they are all signed ‘R. Larter’ and the NGA claims they do not own any of your works.4

Martha Wilson has said that a specific list of names and social roles is impossible to track in the Mail Art scene. Names, like in your address book, Pat, are constantly disappearing, added and replaced.5 Notably, Richard’s name endures. It is written in ballpoint pen in the right hand corner and yours is strangely absent.

This anecdote is a familiar story and a reminder that the archive is selective, not comprehensive. It privileges the voice of some and erases others. I wonder if you were trying to tell us something Pat. That if we choose to enter your Cunt Porn Portal there is an alternative reality on the other side. A space without the gravitational pull of gender hierarchy where bodies are free to orbit as desiring, sexual and mutating entities. If so I’m in.

Much love,

Kelly

 

Pat Larter 5

 

Dear Pat,

The last image I found was from your performance Porno-Parody (1976). Wearing a pair of black suspenders, you face a mirror, but your head is turned towards the camera. In all your work parody seems to operate as a reflective device, reversing the viewing pleasure that defines the pornographic genre. Look at me, you say, look at me if you dare, but I will be looking back at you, and laughing all the time.

Lingering on this image, the librarian came to inform us that our time had come to an end. “The archive is closing,” she said. “I’m afraid you’ll have to come back another time.”

So we packed up your things, returned them to the boxes and bid farewell to you and the librarian. However, you are still here with us Pat, in your images and your mail art—the spectre of you keeps haunting me, returning when I least expect it.

Long after we left the Gallery, I kept thinking about the image of you standing in front of the mirror in Porno Parody. You are looking towards the camera, but your reflection is turned the other way—towards infinity. You seem to be suspended in between the past and the future, like Janus, the two faced Roman god. Like Janus, the image of you exists somewhere between here and elsewhere, always in a state of flux. And now here we are looking back at you, while moving forward. We want to continue this dialogue Pat, through this Porno Portal that Kelly describes, connecting the dots between now and then to re-imagine new pasts and alternative futures.

Yours,

Diana

 

Pat Larter 11

 

 


 

 

1. Danielle Harkim, ‘Femail Art: Pat Larter’, exhibition catalogue, (Mailbox Artspace: Melbourne, 2015) np.

2. East German Postal Collective flyer, 30 September 1985 from the Pat Larter Archive, Art Gallery of NSW.

3. William the Worm mail artwork, New Zealand, undated from the Pat Larter Archive, Art Gallery of NSW.

4. Joanna Mendelssohn, ‘Pat Larter from Kitchen to Gallery’ Politics and Culture, Issue 4, 17 August 2010, accessed 20 September 2015, http://politicsandculture.org/2010/08/17/pat-larter-from-kitchen-to-gallery-3/.

5. Martha Wilson, ‘Artist Books as Alternative Space’ exhibition catalogue in Artists books, bookworks, (George Paton Gallery: Melbourne, 1979) np.

 


All images by Pat Larter (England/Australia, 1936–96). Selection from the The Pat Larter Archive (MS1999.1), Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library and Archive. Courtesy the Pat Larter Estate.

Sunday School is a feminist pedagogical project led by artists and researchers Kelly Doley and Diana Smith. Launched in 2015, it is an artistic experiment...


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