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The Transvestite Heart

It's a drag, but not 'træls'...Review of Jens Blendstrup's 'Dame til fornuftige priser' (1999)

Ever marvel at those sleek, and blemish-free monochrome women in advertising copy from the 1940s? There’s something mysteriously alluring about these women captured in their prime. Freed from fashion and status markers which we can no longer recognise, what is it we project onto these images? Is it a kind of frisson of cognitive dissonance, where the split between our pleasure in their classical beauty jars with our knowledge that these women are now either dead or around 120 years old? Or is it just a nostalgia for when women knew their place, kept quiet and smiled a lot?

‘Dames for Reasonable Prices’ would give us ample opportunity to ruminate on these questions if it weren’t for the fact that these pinned butterflies speak back, in a single voice, compounded of male fantasy, absurdist hysteria and something like a wish to restore a richer, zanier, and more sexually assertive inner life. If the indisputable glamour which we might associate with these vintage models is undercut by the clash of the Danish humdrum and the incongruities of the ‘off the peg’ 1940s style, then Jens Blendstrup does this with a warmth that is neither corny nor cruel.

The work itself grew out of Blendstrup’s involvement with an avant garde writing collective who went by the name of ‘Øverste Kirkurgiske’ (‘Topmost Surgery’). This island-based group regularly performed in a style that was formally experimental and allegedly fun, with an underlying ethos that perhaps recalls the second-generation New York School of Joe Brainard, Ron Padgett and Ted Berrigan. Jens Blendstup, whose name is actually a badly spelled anagram of Ted Berrigan, also shares the same beard and spectacles. Even the physical format of ‘Dames for Reasonable Prices’ seems to follow that of Brainard, Padgett and Berrigan’s collaborative ‘Bean Spasms’ and has a kind of John Cage-like serial form where repetition of key phrases (‘I have my red set on’/’Offer of four lenses for a tenner…’) sets up readers for humorous thematic variations.

But you’d be wrong to think that Øverste Kirkurgiske were simply pasty-faced Danes in eighties American shades: Blendstrup’s ventriloquist’s act with the advertising copy may owe more to the détournement of the early situationists, and Asger Jørn’s ‘modifications’ of paintings more specifically. ‘Dames for Reasonable Prices’ can be read as a humorous denigration of commodity culture which doesn't pretend that you can either buy your way out through ‘ethical consumption’ or simply walk away.

Most dramatic are the comically extreme and yet weirdly authentic descriptions of the narrator’s fantasies brought on by special offers in the shopping centre, which are rendered with a crass charm that wouldn’t look out of place in a Luis Buñuel film. The fantasies are at once absurd and something like a parody of what a naïve man would imagine a woman would fantasize about. As such, and if it weren’t for the obvious satirical overtone, they risk being viewed as stereotypical male projections. Yet what if these fantasies which his female narrator declares were merely his own? What if, internally, all fantasies are distributed equally between the sexes? One thing's for certain, Blendstrup had fun assembling ‘Dames for Reasonable Prices’, and that feeling catches on.


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