Lilly McElroy (2008)


Lilly McElroy

Art on Paper by James Yood

Lilly McElroy: I Throw Myself at Men at Thomas Robertello Gallery, Chicago

To say that a woman threw herself at men, a generation or two ago, meant that she was loose and sex-crazed, that her libido overwhelmed her supposedly more ladylike and demure instincts. One hallmark of recent feminism has been the use of humor to turn cliches on their usually balding patriarchal heads – for women to commandeer sexual power by reversing gender biases about who’s active and who’s passive. Lilly McElroy’s giddy series, “I Throw Myself at Men” does all that and more.

The project started out simply enough. In 2006 McElroy posted an ad on Craigslist, the free internet classifieds service, looking for men she could literally hurl herself at in bars, for the sake of the camera. She had no trouble coming up with volunteers, and over the next several years, in blue-collar Chicago and Kansas City taverns, she did the missile deed, meeting the stranger at a bar, suggesting he brace himself a bit, and then, wham bam, she’s a horizontal projectile fully aloft and headed breasts first for a guy who’s about to get more woman than he bargained for. (She no longer uses Craigslist; she approaches likely looking candidates in bars directly.)

The best of these largish inkjet prints shows McElroy in flight, seemingly exhilarated, arms and legs akimbo like some Baroque angel transported in ecstasy. The works deliver that sense of bodily freedom that leaping provides, somewhat evocative of Yves Klein’s famous 1960 Leap into the Void, but McElroy isn’t jumping into space, and a great deal of the drama lies in the juxtaposition of the liberated gusto of McElroy’s body and the tensed “uh-oh” body language of her casual pick-up dudes. Their eyes close and their knees usually buckle as they prepare to embrace her, not in bliss or affection but to cushion the impending collision. It’s just great fun, the way McElroy suggests an intersection of intimacy and aggression. As a proletarian bonus she also examines the gritty working-class tavern: a place where people go to drown their sorrows and seek out companionship, sometimes managing to achieve both.
- James Yood

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