Last week Swedish artist Carolina Falkholt’s giant erection caused sensation in central Stockholm. Painted onto a graffiti wall on the side of a Kungsholmen apartment building organized by Kollektivet Livet, the mural will be covered up within a week following complaints – 5 months and 3 weeks ahead of schedule. Widely known for her portraits of sexual organs, Falkholt’s veiny phallus has ignited controversy among Stockholmers. “Some people are positive about the work and see it as playing an important part in the debate around sexuality, the body and gender.” property managers Atrium Ljungberg wrote, “Others, particularly neighbours, have received the work less well, and experience it as offensive.”
It feels surprising that in a world where the human body is amputated, objectified and stitched back together into the Frankenstienian images of war, disease, devastation and human slavery that suffuse popular media, we still hold the penis in such high regard. Or that our only context of interpretation for it is still so banally pornographic. Perhaps this is because we are constantly surrounded and dominated by the penis; only disguised as women in lingerie, or expensive watches and cars obscenely flaunting themselves at every corner.
In the Bacchanalian rituals of the Ancient Greeks, during festivals or following theatrical performances of what is now considered high art, giant sculptures of the male member were regularly paraded around. The sexual energy they represented was neither so offensive nor domineering. They were a symbol of primal sexual energy which when released, resulted in a kind of chaos which transcends gender as we understand it today; so insipidly revolving around power, dominance and penetration. Or worse still, how we dress. This was the chaos of ecstasy, reproduction and rebirth.
Does Falkholt’s blue penis resurrect this Bacchus spirit in time for spring? Does it reveal the sub-text of billboards which regularly dominate and penetrate our egos? Or is it just another d*ck being shoved in our faces in a cynical ploy for attention? That’s open to interpretation, but at least until next week, the debate is stiff.