Elan, Sadness, and Laughing Through the Tears
I was working on some writing this week in Tribeca, and as the cafes began closing shop for the day, I started feeling the itch to go out for a little quixotic wandering and feel the evening breeze on my skin. I landed at [pool hall] and soon found myself involved in a game of solids-and-stripes with Marina Dojchinov and some of her friends. We realized pretty soon that we were both involved in the art scene, and Marina invited me out to her gallery to talk about feminism, curation, and the concept of all-female shows, and to see their newest exhibition at One Art Space- a group show called She is…
She is… is a salon-style show packed with startlingly disparate works- primarily paintings.
You’ve got the sloppy, self-assertive attitude of 3 lounging, painterly nudes...
the psychical character-renderings of a woman who retreats into the persona of a rabbit- soft, infantile, and wounded…
her pain juxtaposed with efflorescent, lacy inks of imagined Fancy Ladies (Les Demoiselles by Stephanie Fuller) with comical taglines to match:
“Lady Meredith never arrived without her peacock Pedigault.”
She is is a series of disparate points whose shape forms… elan. sadness. beauty. laughing through the tears. Her’s is pathos of a seeing a woman whose very pain has become prosaic, or reified to the point that it is no longer felt. She mixes a palette of glittery aqua eye-shadow to cover her bruises, while making self-deprecating jokes to hide the nausea she feels toward the role society has told her she gets to play in this life.
Part One: Elan
Kenna Kindig’s paintings are all brassy nonchalance, saucy glam-eyes, and popping nipples. They have a sort of carelessness to them- drooping washes of pink and deep grays that that add a casual splash of painting-ness to what could otherwise be termed a figure study. They’re fairly compelling, but leave you wishing Kendig would delve more deeply into semiotics and art history. When you’ve got talent, passion, and an audience, it’s important to cultivate and strengthen the philosophical underpinnings so that you can participate in the contemporary cultural dialogue.
Part Two: Sadness
Back to the pathos of a woman whose very pain has become prosaic, reified to the point that it is no longer felt- trauma, abuse, and ‘traditionally female’ social ills are the backstory to several of the paintings in the show. I reached out to some of the artists to see about spotlighting these issues in our story and delve more deeply into specifics, but it seems like now is not necessarily the time for these women to tell their specific stories, and we respect that.
Why does chronic pain and rape become accepted by victims as well as perpetrators, and get silently swallowed, quietly buried?
shame, guilt, embarrassment
not wanting friends or family to know
concerns about confidentiality
not being believed
beliefs like ‘pain is a part of my life’
personality factors like ‘pride, reserve, independence’
As Pamela Sneed says, “sometimes you start to talk about racism, and people just shut down”. It’s like oh, give me a break, we’ve heard it all before. That’s one reason artists invent new language. It can feel the same way telling or listening to women talk about body issues.
The opening painting at She is… is Susan J. Barron’s image of Botticelli’s Venus, overlain with notes and diagrams lifted from a plastic surgeon’s notebook. Formally, the painting does not register in visceral way- the soothing sea-green palette and loveliness of the Venus detract from the painfulness of the content- but when you enter the psychic space of the painting, the knife is felt. Surgically cleansed, the steel wavers above one of the Venus’ perfect breasts, her sweet, pillowy thighs, and prepares to slice her flesh open. I feel nauseated and want to keel over and puke, scream, pull my hair out.
One of the most powerful works in the show was a gray bunny painting by Mari Giorgadze, of a nude woman whose coldness is felt in the swaths of gray that form and engulf the figure. The bunny head is childlike, too-soft and shivering. This is the painting that hurts me so badly to see, and brings tears even as I write this. It’s so hard to feel hope here, the softness so frightening. I know that feeling, and I don’t know why it happens to women, but it does.
Part Three: Laughing Through the Tears
As soon as I arrived at the show, I expressed to Marina my hesitation about the idea of all-female shows generally. She acknowledged my concerns but added that she believed this shows’ curatorial vision was topical (inspired by the Me Too movement), was in service of justice and the rectification of exclusion and trivialization, and was empowering to the artists being shown. I asked her, “what do you think empowerment means?” She said, "inspiring". I was confused for a moment- but she continued, “helping women to believe in themselves, and their art. Empowering to believe in themselves.” Suddenly it became very clear to me that the ultimate aim of showing isn’t always about dazzling the hell out of every Tribeca gallery-goer with a lot of profound poetic or formal innovations, high conceptualism, or awe-inspiring technical skill; beauty can be seen in the tangible social effects of the show. These women, many self-taught, outsiders with something to say, and the creative fire to say it, are going to walk away from this experience seeing their work in an entirely new way- as a part of American culture that needs to be cultivated, glorified- a creative well that needs to be tapped into and allowed to blossom.
However, a discussion of 'separate but equal' in relation to female art spaces is worth having.
separate is not equal
My primary concern with all-female shows is a retreat into psychologically cloistered juvenilia- circular self-congratulation for mediocre work. Placing women in their own pink corner is a great way to keep women from seeing themselves as great artists.
Not to mention, inequality. Plessy v. Ferguson was in 1896. Separate has been widely established and acknowledged as not equal. There’s always less funding, lower quality, lower standards, no respect. I don’t want to be sitting in the pink car on the art train, okay? It’s a disservice to society. As Hillary Clinton says, “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.”
Even now, in this piece, I’d love to be granting each woman in this show the focus one her ideas that she deserves- free from the social constructs that necessitate an ongoing analysis and fixation on the politics of feminity. She is so powerful- she is weaving together never-before-told stories, spinning them directly from the wool of her dreams, to form the tapestries of her psyche, she’s vulnerable and unafraid- yet because the female body still remains so culturally ingrained as the lesser other, her feminity is still the “theme” of this show, in service of cultural redress. She is still bound by the condition of her being to speak constantly of the biological condition of her female-ness.
Maybe this is why we the monastic seclusion of ‘female art’ exists, is to grant women the safety and space to blossom. But let the audience come here, softly, with open-minds and enter this space- and what greater revelations exist than we see in some vapid ‘high treasure’ such as a Christopher Wool, a Koons?
the article & the subject; the man & his muse
A grammatical article is a word whose only existence is pointing to another word. It’s like an astronomical ephemeride. For example, in the phrase “this book”, the word this only exists to point to book. An astronomical ephemeride is used to locate another celestial body.
Women throughout art history have taken the role of the article for the subject of men- the assistant, the possessed accessory. She is the prostitute, the muse, the wife in a pretty hat. (Simone de Beauvoire… you mean, Sartre’s wife?) The woman, socially and artistically, is always pointing to the man, pointing elsewhere- she is not the subject. She is the vessel of male pleasure, the connection to Muses, where true inspiration lies. For an extreme example of this, let’s look to the practice of temple prostitution.
Herodotus in The Histories, describes temple prostitution. She, in this case, is the non-being, the vacant channel whose physical body is the vessel through which divinity is accessed.
“The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger at least once in her life…. most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple…”
Yeah, wow. She just has to take it if she wants to be a part of that society. Metaphorically speaking, this is not wildly different than some pockets of the male-dominated art world today.
It’s time for the art world to grant women subjectivity rather than cast them as the accoutrement, the article, the channel, the empty vessel- and grant her subjectivity the respect that it deserves.
oh yeah, so Laughing Through the Tears
Aditi Damle’s blobby, bloopy, cacti’s assert themselves with weird tremolo by the door. The cacti is bookended by two pink-faced, aqua-haired busts topped by a squawky violet bird. Graphic, gridded pedestals add a graphic stylishness to the tableau. It’s sort of a hysterical “whatever” to punctuate the seriousness of the show, the floppy pink hair-bow she ties on while finishing the horror-story she’s just told you, adding the last touches of aqua eye-shadow to her tragically over-painted, candy-colored face. She is… leaves you in excruciating awareness of the comedy of our lives.
She leaves you laughing through the tears.