“The body is the instrument of our hold on the world.”
― Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
The current political and cultural climate has refocused the world’s attention on the female body, the abuse it has suffered as well as the strength within every woman that defies historical prejudice and injustice. Barbara Kruger’s battle cry: “Your Body Is a Battleground” has never been truer. What has changed is that we are no longer content to simply offer our coy laments about the treatment of women by men in power. Perhaps for the first time in history, women are banding together, speaking out, using the legal system to bring their abusers to stand public trials, supporting one another as we move forward to a new era of feminism, equality and a future where our daughters will no longer feel afraid and be treated on par with their male counterparts. What is the role, the power, the future of the female body? What is the ideal feminine?
This show proposes to use the gallery as a platform to examine the way artists, mostly female, sees the female body as the ideal feminine. Can a female body be an ideal? What is that feminine ideal? Does it exist? Does it attract, repel, and exhibit strength, weakness? What are our expectations for the feminine ideal? Twelve artists have been invited to participate in the Ideal Feminine? show, each dealing with the notion of the female form in an individual way through a variety of materials, techniques, styles and interpretations.
Stephanie Hirsch, Sissi Farassat and Zoë Buckman use materials often associated with woman’s work such as embroidery and beads to express their femininity and expand the notion of craft through their artistic process. Hirsch covers her work entirely with beads, creating a sort of protective skin on top of the sculptures. Her works present a decorative visual appeal but also a calm and resolute toughness. Sissi Farassat photographs women’s bodies, including her own, as a first step of the artistic process. She then laboriously hand embroiders thread and beads on top of the photograph, thus extending the singular moment of a photographic snapshot into a lengthy and time consuming embellishment period, evoking the historic craft form associated with women. Zoë Buckman boldly takes on the subject of feminism through appropriation of objects as varied as boxing gloves and mannequin legs to change the course of the dialogue and highlight uncomfortable truths while proposing her version of what the future holds. On stockings, Buckman hand-embroiders hip-hop lyrics that jarringly juxtapose misogyny and liberal ideas inherent in pop culture to this day.
Jen Ray and Jessica Lichtenstein both challenge the patriarchal system by presenting a world where women exist as warriors, amazons, frolicking maidens in a female-dominant environment oblivious that life can be led in any other way. Jen Ray, a multimedia artist and performer, arms her warrior women with flower-encrusted porcelain battle axes and sends them to stand strong, independent and unwavering against any omnipotent male-dominated system. Jessica Lichtenstein activates and releases her female protagonists to populate their own idealistic natural world, filling every tree, lake and field, and replacing the leaves and flowers with their figures unabashedly enjoying this liberated existence. Her wall sculptures in acrylic, metal-leaf and lacquer hark back to the past and evoke some fantasy landscapes conceived by male artists, but make no mistake; Lichtensteins’ girls exist and flourish only on their own terms.
Margeaux Walter and Lala Abaddon both use photography to express what it means to capture their own female body, to be a woman, and to use performance as a means for individual expression. Walter photographs herself performing various actions, experiencing environments she creates, and questioning the meaning of existence. Abaddon performs, photographs and weaves the photographed images into a complex tapestry of sorts that evokes the original performance and the body but also abstracts the action and the form. Abaddon’s work is transformative both for the way it translates her own experience through the performance and the way that action becomes embodied in photographed and sculptured works. Abaddon will also create an original performance during the show wrapping herself into a cocoon and capturing her naked form inside the self-made structure.
Rachel Hovnanian and Natasha Law present the female form as sculpted and painted ideals but from very different points of view. Rachel Hovnanian is a multi-media artist reflecting on the current culture, assessing and engaging with its standards and norms. Hovnanian's poignancy lies in her uncanny ability to take the most obvious truisms and turn them on their head with humor and brilliant re-contextualization. For the current show, Hovnanian will have two sculptural works that question the nature of the female body norms artificially conceived and by which women are still being judged to this day both in the media and throughout popular culture. On the other hand, the British painter Natasha Law paints women’s bodies in their casual, relaxed and intimate state. Though anonymous, the bodies she captures in the midst of undressing or simply bending over are those of her girlfriends and the gaze is that of a female artist. Her women are sexy without being sexualized.
The three male artists in the show have been invited to share in their own perspective on the significance of the female form. Todd Murphy gathers found materials, particularly those from the natural world such as flowers or twigs to compose female dress forms he sculpts and photographs. These feminine shapes are poetic and fairy-tale like asking the viewer to suspend reality and imagine a dress made for a princess, a goddess, a fairy, a dancer or the woman of his ideal feminine.
Marc Dennis’s hyperrealist painting done in the Old Master technique of artists such as Carravagio, embraces subjects as diverse as still-life to tattooed divas and portraits of powerful gallerists. But for the current show, Dennis presents paintings of two young women, one seen frontally and one from the back of her head and neck. The paintings are so realistic the viewer can mistake them for photographs however they are also authentic and honest in their embrace of female beauty and strength as seen through a man’s gaze.
Sebastiaan Bremer utilizes both photography and painting in his work. Each photograph in the exhibition is uniquely enhanced by tiny ink droplets that reimagine images of the female bodies, initially captured in a fragment of a moment. Bremer either uses his own photographed figures or images derived from his art historical predecessors, such as Pablo Picasso. He reinterprets the image, creating a different tone that tackles the ideas of a central female protagonist in a dreamlike world.