Gail Severn Gallery
Pamela DeTuncq’s tapestried taxidermy deer in her collection Fauna Mori are immediately arresting to the eye, at once striking, colorful and whimsical – and unusual in their juxtaposition of subject and materials. But while the work is visually compelling, DeTuncq’s intent is not merely to please the eye, but rather to explore the question of what becomes of our identity when we are no longer among the living. What becomes of the story of who we were and the life we lived when we are dead but not really gone? Those who live on after us become the taxidermists of our remembered selves, leaving us to be doctored, decorated and either diminished or enhanced depending upon the storyteller. DeTuncq’s use of antique French tapestries evokes that storytelling. Just as the interlaid swatches suggest narrative, so the stories we tell about the departed reshape and reconstruct the dead after their passing. As the living, we do it to others and, as the departed, it will be done to us. The work invites us to ponder just how our post-mortem self might be presented and preserved.
Such explorations into the fundamental nature of contemporary life are at the core of DeTuncq’s diverse body of work. She has explored faith and religious iconography, teenage conformity, gender stereotypes and the challenges of aging. All her work is stylistically and visually independent, which speaks not only to the deep well of DeTuncq’s artistic vision and abilities but also to her fascination with exploring new materials and processes. According to DeTuncq, that exploration is a necessary part of keeping the creative process fresh and stimulating. “My diverse body of work does not exhibit a singular visual style, but is consistently informed by my desire to provoke a reexamination of the familiar, often by the application of materials that might seem at odds with the subject.”
Given that constant quest to explore new materials and the resulting visual variety in her work, it might appear that each of DeTuncq’s collections stands alone without reference to previous projects. However, the thread that stitches her work together is always the question posed and the idea explored. As unlikely as it might appear when viewing the work, Fauna Mori grew out of a body of DeTuncq’s work entitled The Aging Project that explores how we age. That work engages with a spectrum of issues from loss of independence and mobility to the over-medication of the elderly and includes a life sized human form suggestive of a prescription bottle and filled with multi-colored pills. A walker is pieced together with a prosthetic hip while the car keys, stitched into needlepoint, are visible but forever out of reach. From that unflinching look at aging, a reflection on death would seem to be the obvious next step, but DeTuncq was drawn to a treatment of the subject that, while provocative, also allowed for a more light hearted approach, bringing more levity into both her creative process and into the experience of the viewer.
DeTuncq’s willingness to tackle the big idea is matched in scale by her willingness to immerse herself in materials and processes that often require immense investments of time – and often tedium – to complete. In her installation Flock, which explores the familiar teenage rush to peer conformity through the relatively new medium of the cell phone, DeTuncq first created full body casts of six teenagers then laboriously needle felted raw wool into the jeans and hoodies needed to clothe her plaster replicas, all of whom stare fixedly at the phones in their plaster hands. For June, her installation on traditional gender roles, DeTuncq created a carpet of crushed and tinted eggshells to form a perfect black and white photo-realistic replica of June Cleaver. The viewer of that installation might have been forgiven for not appreciating the thousands of eggs that had to be collected from various breakfast cafes before being washed and sterilized then crushed and tinted in slight progressions of greys and blacks just to produce the raw materials for the installation. Then, in a nod to the impossibility of maintaining the fragile perfection of a June Cleaver in real life – and to the ephemeral nature of domestic (and artistic) labor – DeTuncq vacuumed up a large swath of her installation.
DeTuncq says “I like to think that my thoughts and preoccupations are at least familiar and perhaps universal. What I strive to do is to create images and objects that compel the viewer to re-think the familiar in ways that are novel, arresting and, at times, challenging.”
Pamela DeTuncq has been a featured speaker at the International Conference on the Arts in Society at Imperial College of London and is the recipient of a 2018 fellowship awarded by the Idaho Commission on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. In connection with that fellowship her collection, The Aging Project, will be shown at five venues across the state. Flock was first exhibited at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and has since been installed at the Boise Art Museum, the Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon, MI and the Dennos Art Museum in Traverse City, MI, where it is now a part of their permanent collection. June has been installed (and vacuumed) at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, while Forty Days and Forty Nights, DeTuncq’s examination of religious iconography, has been hung at the Boise Art Museum and at the Niza Knoll Gallery in Denver, CO.