In Suzan Pitt’s 1979 animated film Asparagus, we follow a faceless doll-like figure as she moves through sensuous domestic interiors; as she defecates asparagus stalks into a toilet bowl, as she watches a forest of tangled exotic plants and flowers move past outside a window, and as a giant version of herself appears outside gently masturbating and fellating a thick stalk of asparagus, her red lips moving softly up and down it’s phallic form, adoring it, almost worshipping it.
Pitt’s film is like watching a dream unfold, it is libidinous and intoxicating. It is an expression of a highly idiosyncratic yet eeerily familiar interior world, with no sense of logical causality, but instead is like a chain of images, wordless, trance-like and endlessly layered.
At the time that this film was first exhibited in 1979, female filmmakers were making work that could be characterized as deep responses to phallocentric society. Suzan Pitt’s film stood out as an embodiment of an aesthetics of pure sensibility, and was, as Sharon Couzin explains, ‘contradictory… and problematic for feminists because it clearly carries possible readings of penis envy, and acceptance of the patriarchal order.’
The asparagus/phallus symbol which appears throughout the film was for Pitt a kind of symbol of nature and wonderment, the female character ‘wants so much to touch it, to embrace it, to make contact with it, to understand it’. She goes on to say, ‘I am basically a heterosexual woman and that’s my experience: a man with a woman and my being a woman. That’s what I see. Someone with a different sexual experience would say it in a different way perhaps. I’ve always felt that I was a mixture of masculine/feminine traits. A lot of artists do… I always felt I was third sex. I don’t see an asparagus as purely phallic. I love the way it looks when its coming out of the ground because it’s completely formed, it stands up, looks ancient and yet fresh at the same time. But as it goes through its metamorphosis it grows up to become this beautiful, ethereal, wafting-in-the-wind fern, which is more feminine’. Pitt also talks of the impossibility of ever really connecting with the other and this film could be seen as an attempt to figure this gap/space between self and other, however, it is clear that by referring to herself as the ‘third sex’ she is going beyond the binary oppositions that are the foundations of the masculine rationalist way of thinking. Pitt’s work is firmly grounded in the imagination and senses, not in the intellect, and presents a kind of sensual expansive feminist aesthetics. When she describes her need to communicate on this level, to tap into the imagination to develop the passages of her narratives and to articulate her own spaces of longing and desire, her need seems almost pathological.
I believe Asparagus was ahead of its time, and in the importance of figuring a more complex, denser relationship to sensuality as opposed to the shallow one liner. Things are too readily named in our society and turned into products like a kind of aesthetic short-hand. The post-modern period didn’t dream of the devastation that followed it, but perhaps Suzan Pitt’s film dreamed of an aesthetic desolation, a complexity and a way of unknotting repression. It proposes a much richer set of possibilities, as opposed to the simple impact of the image, it is dense, difficult and opaque.
Chloe Feinberg is a London based artist and animator. She graduated with a BA in Fine Art from CSM and an MA in Animation from the RCA. Her erotic animation ‘Love Soldiers’ is currently touring festivals. http://www.chloefeinberg.com/Love-Soldiers-Trailer