Western Exhibitions is thrilled to present a two-part solo exhibition, Un-Natural Parables, by pioneering feminist artist Faith Wilding. In Gallery 1, the gallery will present Natural Parables, a body of work last exhibited in 1985; large watercolor/drawing hybrids paired with oil-on-panel paintings shaped like pods. In Gallery 2 will be a new series of mixed-media watercolor paintings, Paraguay: Republica de la Soya, that reflect on the artist’s recent on-the-ground research into her birth country’s ongoing ecological crises.
In 1941 Faith Wilding’s parents Edith and Harry Barron emigrated to Paraguay as members of the Bruderhof Anabaptist commune. Here, in a rural Bruderhof settlement, Wilding would be born and grow up with a rich relationship to a verdant environment, coupled with a communal upbringing where literature and music were as readily taught as animal husbandry and agriculture. Wilding has long mined this childhood in her work, grateful for a youth that was rich in community and ingenuity, but also deeply resistant to the strict gender norms and roles imposed by an otherwise quite radical Christian sect.
While well recognized for her early work co-organizing and exhibiting in Womanhouse and then later for her collaborative work with subRosa, Wilding’s robust painting and drawing practice has only recently been revisited. Truly the backbone of her practice, Wilding’s vivid works on paper often use imagery from nature as a metaphor for transformation. Her interest in exploring specific ideas of women’s transformation is as prominent as her inquiry into the metamorphosis of the natural world through human intervention and destruction. Wilding’s life-long examination of the body as political site and nature as political site marries an instinctive desire to reveal the ways in which humanity and the natural world are co-dependent. Her consistent commentary on humankind’s exploitation of the natural world and its subsequent weaponization anticipated art’s contemporary consideration of the Anthropocene as critical subject matter.
For Un-Natural Parables, Western Exhibitions will exhibit for the first time since 1985 Wilding’s Natural Parables series, originally produced in 1982 and last exhibited in Los Angeles. This work marked the culmination of years of Wilding’s early research into female mythologies, paganism, English Romantic poetry, illuminated herbals, bestiaries, alchemical manuscripts and female imagery. At the time she was seeking to create her own system of representation and illustrate an interconnection between beliefs, mythologies, dreams and fantasy worlds. Forty years later, Wilding made Paraguay: Republica de la Soya, a series that responds to the wanton destruction of Paraguay’s dense forests, verdant campos, meandering swamps and waterways through massive mono-cropping of GMO soy. With the help of an Art Matters grant, Wilding traveled back to Paraguay for the first time since emigrating in 1961 to study botanical collections and gardens. The resulting works on paper are part of a larger memoir project that Wilding is currently completing that reflects on her upbringing and her complex relationship to it.
Un-Natural Parables marries two distinct time periods in Wilding’s practice, connecting yet book-ending her early exploration and development of a feminist vernacular with the political concerns that emerged as part of a cyber-feminist practice that delved into reproductive biotech, labor, science and global capitalism. These two bodies of work are linked by Wilding’s continuous, sumptuous watercolor practice where captivating imagery and rich color vividly portray the fundamental inter-connection between humanity and the environment. This melding of the body with the earth through layering of washes, pencil, text, woven paper and occasionally collage, intensifies a message of connection, but also complicity – making it clear that environmental politics is not a “special interest”, but the politics of survival.
Faith Wilding is Professor Emerita of performance art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a graduate faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a visiting scholar at the Pembroke Center, Brown University. Born in Paraguay, Wilding received her BA from the University of Iowa and her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Wilding was a co-initiator of the Feminist Art Programs in Fresno and at Cal Arts, and she contributed “Crocheted Environment” and her “Waiting” performance piece to the historic Womanhouse exhibition.
Her work has been exhibited extensively over the last five decades including the seminal survey WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, organized by Cornelia Butler, which traveled from the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles) to the National Museum of Women (Washington DC), PS1 Contemporary Art Center (Long Island), and the Vancouver Art Gallery. Additionally, Wilding’s work has been exhibited at Reina Sofia Museum (Madrid); Centre for Contemporary Arts (Glasgow); Bronx Museum of Art (New York); The Whitney Museum of American Art (New York); the Armand Hammer Museum (Los Angeles); The Drawing Center (New York); Documenta X (Kassel); the Singapore Art Museum. Publications include By Our Own Hands: The History of the Women Artists Movement in Southern California, 1970-76 (Double X, 1977) and Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices! (Autonomedia, 2003). Wilding was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009 and has been the recipient of two individual media grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2014, she was awarded the prestigious Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award. Most recently, her work was included in Fiber: Sculpture 1960 to Present exhibition that originated at the ICA in Boston; her Crocheted Environment, 1972/1995, was shown in Art_Textiles at The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, England (and it graced the cover of the catalog); she currently has work in Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, up until December 31, 2017.
Faith Wilding’s work was recently the subject of a traveling retrospective, Fearful Symmetries, that featured a selection of works from her studio practice spanning the past forty years, highlighting a range of works on paper – drawings, watercolors, collage and paintings – exhibited together for the first time. Curated by Shannon Stratton and first presented at Threewalls in Chicago, the show traveled to Houston, Memphis and Los Angeles, where it was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly and received a Critic’s Pick in Artforum. This is her first show at Western Exhibitions and her first in Chicago since the retrospective opened in 2014. Wilding lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.