When we began to review the over 100 submissions we received for this show, the two artists’ whose work I loved the minute I saw them were Ji Yoon Chung’s piece and Celine Browning’s pieces. They were both so elegant and subtle, yet the ideas they revolved around were very sophisticated and intriguing. Ji Yoon’s piece, Transition/1011questions what aspects of our experience are the most real and relevant – a photo of a foot on a bed, or cell scrapings from that moment, or a timeline/journal, all evidence of her careful consideration of how we perceive our surroundings. Seeing the piece on the wall, the photos feel much more ephemeral than the cells, which is interesting.
With Celine’s work, Asaration and Catenary, the sculptures were immediately visually compelling. They feel a bit like armor breastplates, yet the toy handcuffs, referencing the toy gun that Tamir Rice was holding when he was shot by police in Cleveland, are disturbing and provocative. Would young black men in American would be more protected if they had armor? I just keep thinking about Ta Nehisi Coates’s writing that for black people, their bodies are never safe, and the story of Tamir makes that utterly clear.
In jurying the show, we also were struck by how artists explored the same idea from very differing perspectives. Two artists we selected, Emma Welty and Amy Kaczur, based on their own family histories as immigrants, and the cultural legacy of women’s work, used that very technique – stitching – to create divergent pieces. Emma is a younger artist, reluctantly compelled to integrate her Armenian inheritance and trauma into her weaving, it/it, using the Armenian proverb “I do not want it, put it in my pocket” to explore her ambivalence. Amy Kaczur’s installation, Stitching Julia, is a reconstruction of her grandmother’s life, based on the scantest of evidence. Using one family photograph, Amy inhabits an imagined life of Julia, sitting at her sewing machine, feeling the movement of her own body to know her unknown grandmother.
In the back gallery are three versions of self-portraits, by Daniel Zeese, Brendan Kenny and Bethany Noel Murray. Brendan’s rough woven sculpture, Untitled #1, pink and hanging like a slab of meat, is an inquiry into how much weight a piece of cloth, or a body, can hold. His weaving is a vessel filled with stones, equal to the weight of his own body, to understand what emotional and physical weight feels like. Bethany Noel Murray’s three skeletal paintings are representations of her anatomy and organs as if they were structured to hold illness and emotions – Anatomy of a UTI, Anatomy of a Heartbreak, Anatomy of Vulnerability. Spare, small, black and white, the paintings remind the viewer of how tenuously we inhabit our bodies and how subjective is our sense of our solid flesh. Daniel Zeese’s ethereal printed textile, Toile, Rose Hips, 1, a self-portrait and landscape assembled from hundreds of individual scans, is startling in its presence, in its transparency, in its beauty. The resulting work from all those scans is a fictional narrative rooted in honest information that treats each detail as equal, and again questions what is real in the realm of our bodies.
Finally, Sarah Haskell’s tapestry, Secrets of the Infinite, symbolically explores the life cycle as a conversation between a black bird, a metaphor for the spirit, and a generic human body, housing the spirit for a short interval of time. The space held within the five panels is contemplative, the change and progression happens slowly and organically, without resistance to change.
As members of an artist-run gallery, it has been exhilarating and an enormous pleasure to bring together such strong, diverse, creative and thoughtful work for our Re: Figuring the Body show.
By Mary Lang
Re:figuring the Body is on view at the Kingston Gallery through August 11, 2019. The First Friday reception is August 2, from 5:00-8:00pm.