Corinne Halbert – Foxx Luv
The Mission – 1431 Chicago Ave // Chicago, IL
July 13, 2012
The other morning, I was reading old Wonder Woman comics online, taking my time with the perverse ritual scene where young Amazons dressed as fauns are imaginatively eaten by their sisters. Like you do. Bill Marston’s imagination carried more depth and breadth than contemporary folk are often comfortable assigning to a funny book writer from the 40s. Even so, in his wildest dreams, could he have imagined that a half-century and change after he set that spirited account to paper, young people from all over the world would meet in airport hotels and convention centers, dress up as animals and pretend to devour one another? That the only barely obscured erotic charge of the Amazon ritual would take on a meaning to a community totally independent from any reading of the comics themselves?
I thought about this, too, the last time I visited Chicago in July of 2012. My former roommates Jon and Jeremy shepherded me to a friend’s installation in Ukrainian Village. They promised I would love it. On the sidewalk outside of The Mission on Chicago Ave, sharing a joint with five or six fellows all in our mid-20s crisis formal attire, I was kind of freaking out, I loved it so much. Right next door was the wake for a very young man, his friends standing in the distinct colors of a much-televised Chicago gang, smoking and kind of looking at us. There’s no meaning I can really wring out of those two very different groups of people; these are things that happen in very large cities. But in the basement…
Corinne Halbert had sewn a felt manequine of a bug-eyed anthropomorphic fox with an enormous erection. Seated on an obscene green vinyl couch, he was the first thing we saw when we softly padded down the treacherous flight of stairs to the Mission’s concrete-floored basement. All around the room were scrawled portraits of the fox, daggers and blades made of felt bulging out of open suitcases, a frantic love letter and images of the Fox’s obsession, Red Hot Riding Hood from the Tex Avery cartoons in various stages of undress. The whole scene was dim, tacky, cartoonishly horny, delightful, hilarious, repulsive, charming… It reminded me immediately of my favorite creatively deviant artists in the furry fandom, Swatcher, Van Weasel and Mamabliss. After introducing myself, I asked to pick the brain of this captivating artist about felt foxes and red hot vixens.
MICHAEL ARTHUR: Walk me through your inspiration behind Foxx Luv. Why did you choose the Tex Avery Wolf and Lady cartoons as your subject?
CORINNE HALBERT: The Foxx character originally started as band art for my good friend Jason Smallwood’s New York based noise rock group, “Bbigpigg.” They had a song called “Foxx the Fox” about a psychotic murderous Foxx man. Jason and I corresponded online via email and I described to him a cartoon I remembered from childhood that left a huge impression on me. I told Jason this character reminded me of Foxx the Fox and I described him as a zoot suit wearing, horny, outrageous wolf man who was obsessed with a lounge singer. Jason nailed it and sent me a youtube link to Tex Avery’s 1943 classic, “Red Hot Riding Hood.” I fell in love with the cartoon all over again and began making my first images of the Foxx man. I wanted to transform Tex’s wolf into Bbigpigg’s Foxx, I kept Red’s character pretty much intact. After completing the illustrations for Jason I found myself completely obsessed with the Foxx man. I drew him constantly, everyday and in as many places as I could find.When I was a little girl I had a bunch of different characters I would draw. One set of characters was a momma dog and her baby doggy. I would draw them over and over again, every day in different situations. There is something very centering and relaxing about knowing a series of lines that you can rely on. So drawing Foxx made me feel like that little kid again. Except now that I am an adult I don’t only find drawing him soothing and satisfying, I can tap into the deviant parts of myself by using his character as a vehicle.I began making larger scale works with these characters using at first puffy paint and fabric and eventually I would begin to use felt and faux fur. Basically at the beginning of this journey I was obsessed with the Foxx. After learning that I would be exhibiting my solo at the Sub-Mission my attention and direction shifted towards Foxx’s obsession with Red. I decided that instead of creating a space about my obsession with Foxx I should create the Foxx man’s living room and really pile drive over the edge his obsession with Red. I wanted people to step inside a cartoon and realize how strong and bursting Foxx’s lust and obsession for Red really is.
MA: The exhibition of the piece took place in a basement. Was the specific location of the installation important to the reception of the piece? Did you specifically request that space when negotiating with the gallery?
CH: It was absolutely key that this show be in a basement, I just knew that in my gut the first time I saw a show in the Sub-Mission. I felt like this was the perfect space to create my Foxx Luv world. The Sub-Mission is a wonderful and unique project space run by Sebastian Campos, Natalia Ferreyra and Sarah Syman who operate Chicago’s Mission gallery. They have a passionate objective to not only show mid to late career American, South American and international artists upstairs but to reserve room in the Sub-Mission space for young, local and up and coming artists. They send out an open call for artists every year to propose a site specific installation in the basement space. I was lucky enough to be one of the four artists accepted to the program this year. I believe they will be choosing seven artists next year.I can’t stress enough though that my vision made a dramatic shift when I learned I had actually landed the show. I started to think about what kinds of things this wonderfully deviant Foxx man would have in his living room. I began work on the pin up series and various other pieces and then I realized I would have to build an actual life sized Foxx man. I felt that the show would fall short without him in his own living room. I was definitely daunted by this fact and knew it would be no easy task but I knew it was something I had to do.
The Foxx’s letter to Red
MA: There is an obvious sexual current running through those cartoons, and it is writ large in Foxx Luv. Is your choice to highlight this element satirical? personal? intellectual?
CH: It’s funny, I never intended it to be satirical at all. Even though I revel in the humorous moments that I hope the audience finds too, I actually take Foxx Luv quite seriously. Of the three words you used in this question I think personally rings the most true. There is also an intellectual current running throughout Foxx Luv. This show like all my work is open for interpretation but it is actually deeply rooted in gender roles, sexual roles and the roles we all find ourselves playing to fit into society as functioning members.The Foxx embodies men’s roles, specifically heterosexual men. But it’s not that simple because the Foxx is also me. I think it is interesting that every single person on this planet past a certain age, save maybe a few have a very private, rich world of imagined stimuli that we call a fantasy life. Yet so many of us keep these thoughts secret, it would be too embarrassing if everyone knew what we were really thinking about. That is the heart and soul of Foxx Luv, throwing that idea that my fantasies are taboo out the window and just put it all out there for people to enjoy.R ed is the embodiment of femininity. While it may appear to be a chauvinistic environment it is not intended to be. I hope that by giving Red a strong enough character she is not read as some poor helpless thing that needs to flaunt her sexuality to survive. In my mind it is quite the opposite, she has full possession of her own body and uses her powerful sexuality to dominate men’s fantasies and make a living. To me that is a powerful woman. Feeling completely comfortable in her own skin, unashamed of her choices. It is kind of beyond her control that Foxx became absolutely obsessed with her.
MA: The character from the Tex Avery cartoon is a wolf, but the centerpiece of your exhibition is clearly a very red fox. You describe transformation as a significant theme in Foxx Luv. Can you talk about this in detail? Why is this?
CH:Transformation is integral to this body of work. I explained in the first question as to why I transformed Tex’s Wolf into a Foxx so I would like to discuss how I transformed myself into a Foxx. It’s funny to me because I think a lot of women, at least heterosexual women, would if asked which character they identified with more, my mere speculative guess would be Red. I myself identify much more strongly with the Foxx man. I have had an overactive imagination since I was a kid. I am not putting this out there to be sensational or shocking but I have an extremely deviant and perverted imagination. Join the club, I know right. But it is interesting that our culture embraces so whole-heartedly the fantasies of heterosexual males while often down-right shunning the rest of us. Clearly a lot of progress has been made and our culture does foster the fantasies of gay men, bisexuals and lesbians as well as heterosexual women and people who are transgendered to some extent. Throw any amount of kink in there and just forget about it unless you’re reading “Fifty Shades of Gray.” I haven’t read it but it makes me smile that it is so wildly popular, it just proves that people don’t even realize how kinky they could be if they just let go of our overly institutionalized way of doing everything.
Anyhow, I feel like I can see things through the Foxx’s eyes. I have a tendency to become completely obsessed, enamored and engrossed with people, subject matters, pop culture gems, films, bands so on and so forth. If I discover something new that really does it for me I want to throw myself into it completely. Learn everything I can about it, study it, absorb it, experience it. I do orient myself as majoritively hetero; however it’s not quite that simple because I am extremely attracted to women. I have had sexual experiences with women and enjoyed them immensely. I think my attraction is directly centered around beauty and femininity. I hope this makes it more clear why I identify with the Foxx, because I have been that perv with my tongue hanging out of my mouth, salivating and my eyeballs popping out of my head while ogling beautiful women countless times.
MA:Many themes in Foxx Luv, anthropomorphism, transgressive sexuality, transformation, are defining features of a contemporary subculture called “furry.” Were you aware of this subculture during the conceptual phase of Foxx Luv, and if yes, to what degree did your awareness of the subculture influence the work?
CH: I was fully aware of the Furries before making this work, however I did not realize the connection until after meeting you and after the opening had passed. It kind of dawned on me that, holy shit there is absolutely a connection to Furry culture. I mean the luv letter, the way I phrased it it’s like a steamy little furry fantasy. And the Foxx man, I mean he is kind of like a Furry sex doll, or at least he could be. It’s really funny because I am not a Furry but coming away from this show I am beginning the process of a new body of work and I asked myself what was I most stimulated by when I made this show? And my answer to myself was line, color, fur, the Foxx man and sculpture. I love the sensual nature of fur, it’s both aesthetically appealing and gives me tactile pleasure when I feel it. So I absolutely plan to make more fur pieces.
If you look at my past work I have created a lot of characters that are animal human hybrids. I created a series while in grad school called the “Dogma of Dogmen.” These characters had men’s bodies and dog heads. Before grad school I did a series called “Businessmen in Bunnyland.” The main characters were these evil business men and various races of bunny/human hybrids. I have also made paintings of myself as both a bear girl and the sad bunny girl. For my graduate lecture at SAIC I actually dressed up as the sad bunny girl and handed out bags of carrots and eggs with Minnie (Mouse) paintings inside to the audience. So I am not surprised there is this connection. I have a lot of similar interests as an artist to the Furries.