Intersections, Durango Herald, March 20, 2007

Conceptual art at DAC makes social statement

“Pleasure Saddle,” by Annie Strader, is part of the
show “Intersections: Artifice & Matter” at the
Durango Arts Center. The traveling show features the
work of four female artists.

A “Pleasure Saddle” adorned with ruffles of pink ribbon hangs from the center of the gallery at Durango Arts Center. Pink pantyhose are pinned to the entry wall in what looks like hearts or leaves or the wings of birds. The overall shape of “Love as it Flies” is circular, with linear bands and individually abstracted shapes in differing shades of pink.

These sensuously charged works by Annie Strader are part of a traveling group exhibit called “Intersections: Artifice & Matter,” featuring the work of Strader of Wichita, Kan.; Christine Owen of Wappinger Falls, N.Y.; and Julie Wills of Crested Butte.

The show opened with a performance by The Bridge Club, a group made up of the artists and Emily Bivens of Knoxville, Tenn., and her piece “Ceaseless & Solitary.” DAC Exhibits Director Susan Andersen said in an e-mail that the women were dressed in waitress garb, wearing clear plastic hair covering, high heels, stockings and wigs styled in that ’60s flip hairdo. They stood in intersecting corners sanding, peeling and pulling threads out of the wallpaper, excavating bone or plaster and methodically rearranging items found in their environment. They did not speak.

“For people coming into the exhibit, watching them pull strings out of the wall paper was disturbing,” Andersen said.

At the end of the performance piece, they hung up their aprons and tools, some left their shoes and all left their plastic rain bandannas. The floor was littered with white powder, porcelain teacups, cream pitchers and broken plates.

This is what is left for the duration of the exhibit. There is something haunting about the remains of an excavation site: the walls picked at and the decorative wallpaper peeled away. The group’s finds were left to litter the floor – a single shoe, some bone, a teacup – reflecting the way women are still discarded and dismissed.

“Some men commented at the performance, ‘Are the women for sale?'” Andersen said. “This lent credence to the exhibit and to their point.”

Their point, according The Bridge Club blog, is this: “The spaces these women inhabit reference both the decorative comforts of the domestic and the confined austerity of a cell.
Though not confined, the continuity of their activity indicates that they are unable or unwilling to see the possibility of leaving. This is a ceaseless individual pursuit, mirrored unknowingly by others engaged in similar pursuits – something between working and waiting.”

The rest of the show is made of domestic objects and bones – materials that expose the social expectations of items.

“Old Bones” is a broken rocking chair by Wills. The spindles point jaggedly like arrows into the sky, a bit of lace is snatched and impaled on several spindles. On the seat of the chair lies more lace, some dirt and fragments of vertebrae. A pair of white gloves is folded over the arm.

“Exhausted Prospects” by Owen is made up of piles of dirt, five stacks of decomposing gold pans and an empty wooden step stool, worn and weathered. “Ritual Sacrifice,” a mixed-media sculpture by Wills, is made of brushes, cloth, lace, staples, nails, wax, cord, latex and hair.

This is art created by four relatively young women commenting on the role of women in society and sexuality. The work says that we haven’t come all that far since our mothers burned their bras. Since the feminism movement, we seem complacent with the lack of progress and equality that is blatant within the art world.

Women make up half of all art students, but galleries devoted to emerging art in New York show 80 percent more men, according to a group of artists called Brainstormers. Yet as curators and scholars, women make up the majority in the field, but they are not selecting female artists. It’s a clever trick, yet women are still deceived.

Ben Davis, associate editor of Artnet magazine summarized the situation in a recent article:

“What is deemed ‘hot’ new art must pique the interest of playboy European heirs, Japanese capitalists, newly rich Russian robber barons, American i-bankers and the like – all of whom are predominantly male, and arguably less prone to buy overtly ‘feminine,’ let alone feminist, work …”

“Intersections” is the type of exhibit I wish we saw more of at the DAC – sensual, thought-provoking, conceptual art that tackles important issues. Leanne Goebel is a freelance arts journalist from Pagosa Springs.

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