The Strange Hair and the Pretty Nipple

Master's Thesis


The arousal and experience of pleasure is enjoyable, desired and actively pursued. But what about pleasure sought or realized through an encounter with the unexpected, the disgusting, or the grotesque? My work is fueled by this question and the many others which arise from it. The lists of what generates pleasure and why are as numerous and vast (albeit unique) as those who seek it. One traditional elicitor of pleasure is beauty, but this notion is problematic because there are innumerable definitions as to what exactly it means; simply put, what is considered beautiful varies greatly between historical periods and different cultures.

Through my research I have found that beauty is often identified as a causation of sensuality, appeal, even comfort; but as beauty is indeed always firmly rooted in the eye of the beholder, I rely on those symptoms of beauty which pan across cultural and historical eras. To examine the appeal of beauty alone through my work would be to alienate and demean it-to isolate it from the very notions which define it, and so I examine its opposite, disgust, in tandem as to provide an all encompassing investigation of the dichotomous, symbiotic relationship they maintain.

The female body is the ultimate host: of taboos, sensuality, revulsion; it has the astounding ability to conjure repulsion and desire simultaneously. Disgust and desire maintain a provocative relationship with regards to the female body; the numerous dichotomies which fester within this relationship drive my artistic output. Most relevant to my work is the examination of the male and female reproductive system and psychoanalytical work pertaining to the mental health and state of the female as they pertain to feminist theory and art. I rely on feminist theory and discourse, the work of other female artists wrestling with the complexities of feminism, as well as research on historical and current modes of biology and psychology. Much of the visual language I develop in my work derives from a synthesis of this research.

I don’t intend for the undulating vessels I create to elicit pure repulsion, but rather to provide the housing. They represent an origin for all that oozes, gushes and seeps. The breaking down of boundaries is explicit in the rendering of these objects. The vessels have been ruptured, torn open in places to reveal their interiority. Each opening is itself an orifice, the interface between inside and outside, and resemble mutated vaginal forms. The exposure of what appears to be mucous membrane, tissue walls and globules tethered to sinew-like sacks deconstruct the skin, or screen, which is charged with keeping them in place, at bay from the outside world, our world. This type of visual language begs the questions of what is subject and what is object, what defines us from other? and where precisely the walls of segregation are erected, eroded or in some cases, absent. The summation of my quest is eloquently stated by Carolyn Korsmeyer: “The complexity of aversive emotions bound up with artistic beauty creates a zone where horrid, beautiful, sublime and sublate can be difficult to distinguish. But that is why some beauty is truly terrible.” (Korsmeyer p. 177)


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04172014-001253

Author Katelyn Ann Seprish
Advisor Austin Collins
Contributor Jean Dibble, Committee Member
Contributor Kathleen Pyne, Committee Member
Contributor Maria Tomasula, Committee Member
Contributor Austin Collins, Committee Chair
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline Art, Art History, and Design
Degree Name Master of Fine Arts
Defense Date
  • 2014-04-14

Submission Date 2014-04-17
  • United States of America

  • Feminism

  • Sculpture

  • Body

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units

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