Juliana Cerqueira Leite


A Potential Space

A Potential Space is a sculpture that exists in the negative, as an artist’s book. Aiming to recalibrate the cultural and theoretical frameworks that surround representations of the female sex this book contains no text, but instead 83 laser-cut pages that reveal the detailed topography of a vagina – not the vulva but the inner organ of the female sex.

This artwork explores how Western modes of representation are themselves limited by their generative ideologies – limitations that become particularly evident in representations of the vagina.

A small pamphlet that accompanies the book presents the artist’s writing in a text that aims to introduce the reader to the mechanisms through which the vagina’s anatomy became, in its misrepresented form, a primary and essentializing metaphor for femininity, and then to challenge these associations. This text touches upon the writings of Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray and Jacques Derrida among others, all of which have contributed to questioning the relationship between representation, culture and the female body. The re-thinking of the female anatomy – in all its potential – is an inherent part of the cultural and philosophical rewriting of the female and in turn, the possibilities of difference and representation.

The invisible parts of my body remain without difference: I am unable to relate their forms comparatively to the rest of the world that I see. They are only experienced first hand functionally, in some cases through touch, their shapes learned through secondary sources: illustrations and images most often taken from other bodies, interpreted and analyzed by others. The vagina, being inside the body, is largely invisible. Its visualization is reliant on images of other bodies as two-dimensional illustrations. Further complicating this organ’s relationship to representation is its similarity to what is anatomically described as a potential space: the in-betweens, instances where tissues inside the body are pressed against each other normally but are not attached, creating the possibility for space.

The limits of visual representation are spatial: if something does not occupy space it becomes abstracted, it cannot be represented directly. Representation therefore falls short precisely on one of the most determinative features of the female body.

The vagina has a generative relationship to space: it creates space. In order to be represented in a system whose boundaries have been set without regards to its inclusion, the female-sexed body pushes the border of representation to a point where it necessarily becomes fictionalized. Representations of this part of the body become a necessary lie, a means to engage something that isn’t suited to the medium, employing the mechanisms of allegory and metaphor.

Realizing that the vagina’s inner walls are normally touching, that its relationship to space is potential, shifts a paradigm for understanding the female body. Not only because the culturally dominant metaphorization of the female is anchored on terms like absence, open, hole, and their associated ideas of fragility, psychological incompleteness and passivity, but also and significantly because the Western history of visual art and literature has employed representations of the female body repeatedly as the place where the nature of being is deconstructed and reconstructed: from Platonism to Cubism and post-Modern philosophy.

A Potential Space is currently in production with Small Editions, New York, and will be available in September 2016.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite is a Brazilian/American sculptor. Since graduating from UCL’s Slade School of Fine Art MFA as recipient of the Kenneth Armitage Sculpture Prize she has exhibited her work internationally in venues such as the Saatchi Gallery (London), the Vancouver Biennial, the Marrakech Biennial, Galleria Lorcan O’Neill (Rome), Galeria Triângulo (São Paulo), Collins Park for Art Basel Miami Beach, and AIR Gallery (New York).

She has taught at the Slade School of Fine Art in London as well as for Oxbridge Academic Programs at Barnard College and Jesus College in Cambridge UK and CityLit College in London.
Cerqueira Leite has been a contributing art writer for ‘Naked Punch’, a contemporary art and thought review based in London, New York and Lahore.

“There is, after all, a difference between really attempting to think differently and thinking the same through the manipulation of difference.”

-Alice Jardine, Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity.