Annie Strader, Detail of Bound to Love (2007), installation; Romance novels, staples, paint, 6' x 10' x 6"
Sunday, May 31
3:00- 6:00 p.m.
Closing Day Symposium
3:00 - Start sale of Raffle tickets
$3.00 wins you a couple's facial from:
or a neck massage from:
3:15 - 5:30 - Presentations
3:15 Jyl Live!
Jyl Inov, Author of 'Reality Check,' the popular Flagpole Magazine love advice column, will answer questions* live via cell phone, with the aid of local UGA MFA actress Stephanie Davis.
submit your romantic problem for Jyl's consideration, please email it to
firstname.lastname@example.org by May 29, 3:00 p.m., with 'Jyl question' as
your subject line.
4:00 Josh Barnett
Founder of GayInAthens
Mr Barnett will discuss how American "ideals" stifle romance in the gay community, and how Athenians are fighting back.
4:30 Vadis Turner
Our Featured Artist
Ms Turner will discuss her witty, fascinating artwork, and new and old projects.
5:00 Artists' Panel Discussion:
Moderated by the curators
* Hitselberger & Wohl will be discussing Stitches, a two hour long performance piece that took place on the gallery porch on April 30.
Photos courtesy Wayne Bellamy
Raffle Winners Announced
(Do not have to be present to win.)
Yummies donated by
& Thank You to
for AV donation!
|Friday, April 10th, 2009
- Sunday, May 31st, 2009
Curator: Rebecca Ray Brantley
| Co-Curator: Nathanael Roesch
| Assistant Curator: Amy Chicola
Taking on the age-old theme of love, Crafting Romance explores the articulation of romance and desire in the visual arts. It focuses especially on the intersection between once-separate categories: the fine and the decorative arts and high and low visual culture. As curators we imagine this exhibition as functioning akin to the now-anachronistic trousseau, a carefully crafted chest filled with objects that express the anticipation, fantasies and pitfalls of love. Derived from an Old French term for "bundle," a trousseau was filled throughout a young woman's life and paraded through town on the eve of her wedding. Ranging from the gilded Renaissance cassone to the rough-hewn hope chest, such an object typically encased both the necessities of domestic life as well as decorative objects for special or symbolic occasions: embroidered clothing and table linens, woven blankets and decorative samplers. Though mostly practical in nature, the trousseau's obsessively embroidered textiles nevertheless contained in their myriad threads the anxieties and expectations of love. Each increasingly confident stitch, every handcrafted object signals an achievement in its own right and is separable from the ostensible goal of securing marriage. Instead, fabrication of such objects entails countless hours and stitches, and like the act of falling in love, is as much about process, anticipation and desire as its own end goal. Thus the foundation of this exhibition-the act of crafting romance-can be singled out and treated as its own impetus.
Extending beyond its connotation to handiwork, the issue of "craft" also inspires a hard look at the time-honed narratives that have defined love's boundaries-conventions and taboos written into Western myths of origin from the Greek pantheon's series of trysts and betrayals to the desire that rifted the Garden of Eden. Endlessly re-scripted, these expectations and longings continue to permeate our stories from Romeo and Juliet to Sex and the City. Indeed, whether love leaves us heartbroken and rejected or euphorically coupled, the search for love is a narrative woven into everything from fashion ads to movies, commercials to pop music. Thus Crafting Romance addresses the construction and repetition of love in everything from the commonplace domestic object to the crafting of the ubiquitous love story itself. Focusing on this early, anxious period of human relationships, Crafting Romance launches ATHICA's Nurture Series, a sequence of exhibitions focusing on personal connections through various life stages.
Making Love: Decoration, Domesticity and Desire
In twenty-first-century Western culture, the trousseau and the hopes it encased might seem to be little more than a bit of romantic detritus, unequivocally belonging to the ideals and morals of bygone eras. Yet, taking her cue from the trousseau is the artist at the heart of Crafting Romance, Vadis Turner, whose work continues the lineage of mid-to-late-twentieth-century feminist art practice. Currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York, Turner received her BFA in Painting and MFA in Studio Teaching from Boston University. Conflated with the construction of a woman's appearance, for Turner handicraft represents the possibility for a material object to bear the traces of its maker's life and identity. Women often created such decorative and functional objects-ranging from quilts to edible food-for the domestic realm. Though such things are not conventionally thought of in terms of authorship, they nevertheless are designed to denote something about the maker. Ultimately, such objects become transformed with the passage of time into heirlooms, objects that create a physical manifestation of past generations for posterity. Thus, exploring the various forms of artifice used to craft one's own attractiveness in the early twenty-first century, Turner pushes the bounds of the femininized trousseau, mixing the traditional and the unexpected in order to question how contemporary women craft their own highly mediated, artificially enhanced bodies and identities.
Playing on the double meaning of her title, Turner's Vanity (My Beautiful Education) (2008) conflates the various elements that make up her identity. Cutting up her own BFA and MFA diplomas, Turner meticulously reassembles the pieces to fashion a large pair of fake eyelashes, cosmetic scissors and stick-on fingers nails. Cleverly conflating her education with superficial and cosmetic means of enhancing her self-image, Turner suggests that contemporary college and postgraduate education can be used as "finishing school," as just another means of presenting oneself attractively to a potential mate. Also on her vanity are faux "Faberge" eggs that, instead of jewels and precious metal, are made-up of different colored birth-control pills. Juxtaposing a biological symbol of fecundity (the egg) with a means of controlling fertility (birth-control pills), Turner points to the fact that such hormonal means of birth control literally create the artificial illusion of a fertilized egg to prevent the body from conceiving. Suggesting that just as expensive jewelry or lavish ornamental objects can accentuate the body, women from the 1970s onward are able to control the hormonal makeup of their bodies (and, in a severely conservative reading, sustain the appearance of childless virginity). The three ornately patterned plastic dildos hint at the hoped-for but absent lover. Like the birth-control-pill encrusted eggs, they merge the natural and the synthetic and act as reproductions of the real, suggesting another layer to the titular "education." Finally, making the personal political (or at least more universal), a mirror allows viewers to situate themselves in the role of the vain and narcissistic owner of the vanity.
Turner's three Beautywares: Chocolate Squares (2008), are mixed-media works on canvas covered from edge-to-edge with colorful faux-chocolates fabricated out of socks, plastic bags, cotton balls, pantyhose, ribbons and other accessories, which tantalize despite their actual make-up. Individual faux-chocolates are also strewn on the floor beside the vanity table, amid cascading valentine's boxes, and among the items on the Vanity installation in this version created for ATHICA, suggesting a surfeit of adoration, as well as evidence of a gloriously gluttonous binge in process. Conventionally, a box of chocolates is presented from one lover to another as an expression of love.
On a larger scale, but similarly conflating mundane cosmetic objects with confectionary, is Three Tiered Wedding Cake (2009) and its pendant Tampon Chandelier (2008). Both works turn that which is conventionally private and off-limits into a spectacular, ornate form: something that is designed to be looked at and then, in the case of the cake, eaten or, in the case of the chandelier, used to illuminate. Crafted out of tiers of upright, pristinely white tampons Three Tiered Wedding Cake evokes the blood of a woman's menstrual cycle or by extension the potential procreative outcome of sex. Thus, Turner's cake, an object typically meant to be consumed, points to the innate absurdity of artifice's role in masking that which it commemorates and accentuates. For example, designed to celebrate the sexual union of a couple that, in many cases will lead to the birth of children, weddings often seem caught up in their own pomp and ceremony of dresses, food, music and entertainment. Like the bride's veil, the event muffles and disguises that which is at the core of the ceremony. To read Turner's work too narrowly misses that it is equally aimed at celebrating the inherent artificiality of weddings or even of romance itself-that is, the constructed nature of our impulse to couple. This notion is at the heart of the exhibition, as it implies the literal construction of one's self and experience regarding that which is thought to be the most universal and natural of human experience: love. In the end, and perhaps most sagaciously, Turner's thoughtfully crafted objects may point to the fact that love itself is a carefully crafted experience that is scripted differently dependent upon time, culture and context.
Made out of soft pastel-hued striped and floral printed fabric, Turner's Sex Swing (2008) (image this page) looks at first glance like an accessory for an outsized newborn's nursery. But a second glance reveals its status as an adult toy, with its pretty pinks, blues, and greens connecting it to a rococo sensibility. Like Jean-Honore Fragonard's emblematic rococo painting The Swing (1767), it is imbued with a voyeuristic sexuality beneath the lighthearted and frivolous veneer of youth, play and innocence. Turner's Swing hints at the potential outcome of sex, the birth of a child, who upon maturation will-just as the swing goes back and forth-begin again the cycle of attraction, copulation and reproduction. Turner's oeuvre references a long, largely unwritten history of women's' handicraft intended for domestic contexts, simultaneously bringing to mind the sickeningly pedophilic nature of the porn industry's frequent infantalization of grown women, a motif perhaps already at play in the work of Fragonard and his contemporaries.
Like Turner's, Cincinnati-based artist Emily Sullivan's work is tied to the decorative arts tradition. She received a dual BFA in Painting and Art History at the University of Illinois, followed by an MFA at the University of Cincinnati. Fountain of Youth (2007), a cut-paper wall hanging, references a late-Renaissance French bed covering, altering its connotations by enlarging its scale dramatically and removing it from its domestic context. Intricately cut out, the appliqu and embroidery of the bed covering has been translated to a simple black silhouette. Featuring a doll-like couple flanking the titular central motif, Fountain of Youth represents the cut-and-paste, formulaic nature of gender roles-which depend upon superficial variations to create difference. Again, as with Turner's work, artifice is used to designate artifice. Fountain of Youth replicates of an object from the past, literally making it anew as if to preserve and continue its "youth." Such a gesture points to the age-old desire to prolong the early phase of life that underscores the fantastic, trans-cultural myth of a fountain of youth. Important to the context of this exhibit, this notion parallels the nascent phase of love that makes up the first, fleeting period of infatuation. As with Fragonard's The Swing, it is this ephemeral moment that is emphasized as what we obsessively desire to fix and revisit.
Echoing Sullivan's silhouette of a European peasant couple, are Ashley Buchanan's Untitled Relationship Brooch 02 (2008) and Untitled Relationship Necklace 05 (2009). A student at LDSOA-UGA, Buchanan cuts out brass forms to present couples in profile. Related to the folk tradition Sullivan appropriates, Buchanan's crisp silhouettes are contemporary in the specifics of their individual forms such as hairstyle and clothing as well as the chunky gold-toned chains from which they hang. Picturing a moment of intimacy and connection, the necklaces make public the private, as they are objects to be worn. Like Turner's fake "fake" eyelashes, they reflexively point to the role of ornament in attracting a potential lover.
Most specifically, and humorously, dealing with sex and the private, domestic realm is Nora Rabins' Bundt and Angel (2008). A candidate for graduation with an MFA in Furniture Design from the Rhode Island School of Design this spring, Rabins also holds a degree from Smith College and a Certificate in Teaching from Brown University. Her sculpture, Bundt and Angel features two objects from the kitchen: a metal cake frame bearing a pink, plastic "cake" and an empty angel food cake form. Placed on steel pedestals, the two take on an anthropomorphic guise. Situated so that "Angel" is on the verge of penetrating "Bundt," whose pink cake resembles an orifice, the pose mimics both heterosexual and homosexual acts of love, as if to call attention to the staged nature of passive/ active roles. Playing on the gendered associations of such domestic accoutrements, Bundt and Angel acts as a compliment to Turner's Three Tiered Wedding Cake, as both play on an already present sensuality and decadence in foods such as cakes and pastries. The cake form takes on phallic aspects in both-the rows of upright tampons in Turner's cake and the angel of Rabins' sculptural pair-with the disturbing implication that both can be cut apart with a bride or housewife's knife.
Long Distance: Relationships in the Age of Post-Mechanical Communication
Perhaps there is no easy way to start thinking about the effect that communication technologies have had on our understanding of what it means for two people to come together and fall in love. In an age of email, social-networking websites, and online dating, it may seem that we have already accepted and internalized the tools of the digital age in our quests to find romance. Indeed, our enlightened, twenty-first century attitudes toward new technologies may even make us wary of those alarmist philosophers of the last century (e.g. Habermas, Heidegger) who attempted to warn us of the potential dangers we would face if things were to end up as they have-if we continued to outsource face-to-face encounters to tele-communicating mediators. But even if the telegraph and then the telephone and now email and skype-ing all allow us to reach across greater and greater distances in an elaborate network of global courtship, as the artists in this exhibit make apparent, even in the digital age, our romantic desires still leave us longing for human contact, tete-a-tete.
One of the criticisms leveled at tele-communication is that it is unable to convey all the subtleties of interchange between two persons that happen without words (i.e. a look shared by two lovers that can't be translated into language). But rather than think that communication devices destroy this desire for the nuances of interpersonal exchange, we might do better to remember the old adage 'absence makes the heart grow fonder,' a sentiment so powerful it has even been attributed to inspiring the first painting. Longing to preserve the memory of her young lover about to set off on a journey of great peril, Greek myth tells us that a young Corinthian maid traced the silhouette of her lover's shadow and that began the West's obsession with representation. Thus the origin of painting is the result of a romantic gesture: the memento of the boyfriend served to keep alive the girl's anticipation of reunited love even in the face of its tearful absence.
Certainly one of the reasons that long-distance relationships are so difficult to maintain is due to the physical separation that no advance in communication technologies has yet been able to reconcile. Playfully drawing our attention to this fact, Cindy Hinant's telephone sculptures tease out the sexually suggestive language of telephone services that insist on denying the separation of the speakers. Graduate of the Herron School of Art and Design, Hinant's bright, pastel-colored telephones-which look more fisher-price than functional-cuddle and embrace as if inspired by the terminology of Three-way calling, *69, and the Phono Erotica of 1-900 chat lines (see image previous page; all are titles of 2009 works). Here the objects of communication-the now outdated landline telephones-take on the physicality of human relationships, not against technology's domination but by and through it. As we shift over to cellular phones, Hinant's sculptures are both nostalgic for the materiality of older devices and instructive as to the ways in which we might preserve for our modern age what Jean Baudrillard called the 'ecstasy of communication.'
In her Lost Love series 2008 Hinant continues to connect romance with the metaphorics of distance. Replacing stars with hearts, the vastness of outer space is miniaturized and brought closer, forming nebulous but compact groups. As if pulled by powerful shifts in the magnetic field-the result of some cosmological phenomenon? a black hole? an event horizon?-these little hearts fill the sky with hope, defending against the fate of lovers said to be crossed by the stars. Hinant also attempts to reinterpret the destruction we associate with natural disasters in a sticker installation she has created for this exhibit. Comprised of thousands of commercially produced stickers that cohere into one large volcanic mountain erupting in iridescent airplanes, Hinant reminds us of the powerful analogies we have adopted to describe how it feels to fall in love-such as an exploding volcano or an airplane taking off. Reaching back to our school days when the receipt of a bright shiny sticker could confirm that all was right in the world, we witness the motivational power of the hope for a reward held at bay.
Reflecting on what is lost to communication via satellite, assistant professor of Photography at the University of Florida Wes Kline lends the exhibit one of its darker investigations into the romantic chase. His work Outside Statesville (2005/2008) is comprised of two rather disparate elements: there is a large-format photograph of wildflowers and a video in which we follow a photographer on a crepuscular walk through the woods taking snapshots. The whimsy of the photographic subject, itself a cliched symbol for romantic affection, is countered by the eerie soundtrack and brooding pace at which we follow the protagonist in the film.
The title refers to the Statesville correctional facility in Illinois, one of the last remaining panopticon prisons and a symbol of the utopian ideals of an Enlightenment-era institution that attempted to streamline the incarceration process by creating a space in which prisoners-always under the watchful eye of a centrally located guard tower-would learn to police themselves. The panopticon attempts to regulate society's reprobates with clinical precision. However, though we find ourselves outside of the prison's walls in the artist's video, our innocence is called into question by the fact that we trace the movements of the unsuspecting photographer with the illicit gaze of a voyeur. All the while, we read an excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Man of the Crowd," which further implicates us as participants in this portending scene. Here the artist foregrounds the distance between the viewer and the object of our desire-the subject of our pursuit. Lurking in the distance we get the sense that we not only lose sight of the photographer, but are also prohibited from seeing what he sees with his camera. That is, until we realize that the photograph of wildflowers is the result of one of his snapshots. The question then becomes: why do we hunt this man? Is it him that we chase, or just the representation of something that got away: the photograph's indexical reference to that which is now absent? The sinister tone of the video and the deep black of the upper third of the large chromogenic print situate Kline's imagery in the tradition of nineteenth-century Romanticism, whose painters invoked a sense of awe and horror into their landscapes. Attempting to inspire feelings of the sublime in the viewer, these artists hyperbolized representations of the vast distances found in the natural landscape in order to return a healthy dose of mystery to the hyper-rational Age of Reason.
Also looking to transcend the strictures of rational communication, Swedish artist Maria Lewis assembled her ten-foot long (2001) out of the text from a love letter penned by her husband. In the year prior to their wedding he was living in the US, keeping in touch with her, an ocean away in Sweden. Made of titanium and silver chain, the artist foregrounds the materiality of the love letter that stands in for an absent lover during those unbearable months apart and which now, after ten years of marriage, stands as a proud keepsake of the impassioned emotions that marked the period of longing leading up to their union.
In a similar vein, LDSOA-UGA metals professor Mary Pearse fabricated a necklace out of map paper, which measures the distances between lovers in country roads and interstate highways. Created specifically for this show, Love Lines (2009) trades in the precious heavy metals and gems of commercial neckwear for inexpensive paper whose value is proportional to the degree of its fragility. Tracing the space between lovers, these delicate paper strands once again return us to a moment that is in anticipation of the reunion of love. Wrapping several times around the neck, the miles of roads are proudly displayed, but as they are made of paper, do not burden the wearer with the onus of lost love. Instead, like the concentric rings that mark a tree's age, each strand adds to the richness of a life measured in the pursuit of love. Like the piles of telephone cords that gather in Hinant's telephone sculptures, we find ourselves once again reveling in the actual physical connections that promise to deliver an absent lover with whom we still long to be bodily reunited, even in an age of webcams.
Fetish & Fantasy: The Thrill of the Chase
If we understand romance as chasing a fantasy or ideal, then we do so against an all-too-familiar backdrop of love unrequited. Surely part of the thrill of the pursuit is related to the risk of heartbreak. In essence, romance is the inverse of love's fulfillment: it is the chase, as played out in Kline's video, or the perpetuated failure to achieve the object of desire. From S&M to the Freudian fetish, we find ourselves willingly subverting the climax of desire, prolonging the build-up to the completion of the sex act for a cyclical return to the chase.
Perhaps that's why the vast majority of popular music is equal parts idyllic love ballad and brokenhearted lament. Both graduate students at Cranbrook Academy of Fine Art in Bloomfield, MI, Jordan Gushwa and Sarah Lauck's YouTube-video, More than Words (2009), deals with love songs' dual nature. Extreme's song (released in 1990 on the album Extreme II: Pornograffiti) from which the artists borrow their title, ostensibly sets out to celebrate the inexpressibility of love, but its plaintive tone and minor turns give it an elegiac cast that leaves the listener with the sense that something has been lost. The artists' video project juxtaposes a found YouTube video of two young twin girls who reproduce the song in all of its measured sadness. But there is an uncanny sense to their rendition: after all, they are too young to have yet borne the crushing defeat that one feels when love isn't returned in equal measure. When paired with another YouTube video-a close-up of a young woman's torso, clad in a gold lame jacket, being repeatedly pestered by a man's hand robotically attempting to grope and disrobe her again and again-the lyrics take on a perverse meaning. In other words, as we learn from the hackneyed performance by the adolescent cover band, when it comes to romance, not just any gesture will do. It has to feel fresh. It has to be seductive. It has to be well crafted.
Hoping to avoid the pitfalls of rote sexual encounters, Alexandra Carter's delicately painted images embrace the thrills of S&M culture. The central figure in Cinch (2008) is flanked by two dressers who struggle to lace her into a very tight corset. While quite violent-one of the dressers actually punctures the woman's thigh as she plants her stiletto heal into it for resistance-the central figure appears fully in control, an empowered dominatrix directing her subordinates as she prepares to enter into the chambers of a marginalized sexual cult. She is less the victim of society's oppressive body image norms than the willing participant in her own sexual fantasies. In Pedicure (2008), we again observe a hierarchical relationship between women, both literally and figuratively: a fully nude, smaller woman crouches down to paint the nails of her much taller client. The image strips the female nude of its objectification a la the canon of Western art, instead focusing our attention on the glaring red artifice of the polished nails. Painted in ink on drafting film, the artist further fetishizes the surface of her image, bringing our attention both to the temporal materiality of the medium and the performative nature of femininity.
Also internalizing the gendered stereotypes of sexual fantasy, Sarah Laurentius, MFA candidate at LDSOA-UGA, cleverly plays on the infamous Freudian foot fetish in her photo, Untitled (Up Skirt) (2007). Closely cropped and shot from above, the subject is a young woman's larger-than-life pair of feet clad in teal sandals. Barely concealed by the delicate footwear, her left foot is put on display, revealing her clumsily painted, bright-red toenails. Our view of the other foot, however, is blocked by a strategically placed compact mirror that provides a reflected view up the woman's skirt. Following Freud's logic, we might reason that it is precisely this view (of the female "lack") that demands the unencumbered close-up of the left foot as a phallic stand-in. But when we consider that our view puts us in the female's position, Freud's binary of lack and fetish become narcissistically looped in a narrative that once again denies the fulfillment of desire and leaves us in a perpetual state of deferral.
Pam Rogers, too, prolongs our anticipation of romantic love in her hand-colored stone lithograph Waiting for the Prince (2008). A recently minted MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Rogers directs our view out of a stone edifice down onto a pastoral landscape, recalling the proscribed vantage point of Rapunzel, locked up in a tower with no stairs and no door. Like all good fairytales, Rapunzel meets and falls in love with her Prince, but must keep her love a secret to avoid the retribution of the evil witch that has imprisoned her. But if we are to imagine this as the setting of Rogers' drawing, we do not witness one of the exciting moments of the young captive's nighttime visits with her forbidden lover, but a rather dull moment in the middle of the day, and the anthropomorphic organic creature that she has constructed out of the foliage that has made its way into her prison cell on high. Moreover, that creation appears to have been tortured by her hand, the imaginative plaything of a young girl who has been treated like a criminal since adolescence. In Rogers' other image, The Ceremony (2008), our subject is once again the simultaneity of torture and coupling. Referencing the binding ceremonies of ancient marriage rituals, here we see the amputated remnants of two hands still bound: in one of the two bundles, we can almost identify the outlines of a skeletal hand and forearm. But both hands have given way to organic life, having found a fertile home in the decomposing flesh. It is as if something tragic struck these young lovers down just as they were to have finally consummated their relationship, leaving their love unfulfilled in perpetuity. As with Waiting for the Prince, the inevitable outcome of desire left too long in its anticipatory phase is revealed.
Just as Rogers investigates the liminal spaces between desire and its achievement, LDSOA-UGA MFA candidate Stephanie Voegele plays with the notion of skin as that which separates external from internal. Her Pearl Necklaces emerge from under a layer of semi-translucent, flesh-toned silicone rubber, making manifest a notional and physical elision of borders that has always been inherent to jewelry. Like piercing one's ear, eyebrow, tongue or other fleshy body part, having jewelry become part of one's flesh suggests penetration. Indeed, the S&M subculture embraces various forms of piercing for pain-inducing pleasure. Though dissociated from the black leather and bondage aesthetic of S&M, Voegele's necklaces play out the fantasy of a breakdown of the borders between the artifice of culture and the skin of the body that is innate to S&M.
In his folk art inspired wall-mounted painted cast aluminum sculpture (see image on previous and Thank You pages), Robert Clements returns us to the theme of the cyclical nature of the love affair between males and females. Clements is an emeritus sculpture professor of the LDSOA-UGA-where he taught art for 25 years-the author of 3 books and 60 articles. For this exhibit, he literalizes a metaphor in his Jumping Through Hoops (1986-2008), positioning a sequence of bikini-clad men somersaulting through a series of obstacles held in place by their similarly bikinied female counterparts. (An interesting historical note: the bikinis were only added to these previously nude figures when the artist showed the work in a career retrospective in the lobby of the Chase Bank in midtown Atlanta). However, the storybook innocence of these figures' play is undone once we realize these women are shackled together at the ankles. Formally pairing the rounded forms of the hoops above, the chains make it difficult to determine just who the victim is. Everyone involved appears rather cheery, nostalgic for the carefree days of summer and youth. It's as if we've just happened onto one of those faux-impromptu (i.e. highly choreographed) scenes out of a 'beach party' film from the 1960s where teens spent the summer exploring their burgeoning sexuality without adult supervision. Mirroring these films, which attempt to fetishize and preserve sexual development in its ripest state, Clements' chains add an S&M subtext to the narrative and destabilize the happy-go-lucky innocence of his cutout figures. Like the looping YouTube videos of Lauck and Gushwa, the joining of these couples is once again delayed in favor of a continual chase that holds off love's capture, the death knell of romance.
The Romance of Romance: Repetition, Excess & (the End of) Desire
Heedlessly throwing themselves into a spontaneous embrace in the center of a butcher shop, Quebec-based artists Christian Barre and Catherine Plaisance insert an out-of-control moment of passion into an otherwise common place, fluorescently lit scene of day-to-day life. (Plaisance contributed photos to our 2007 Ruburbs & Other Spaces In Between exhibit) Catching the eye of a man rounding the aisle of the market with his still oblivious pre-adolescent daughter and a near-empty buggy, this image makes up one of the photographs from the series The Kisses of Resistance. As the series' title suggests, these moments of spontaneous desire promise to jolt both the unwitting spectator inside the photograph as well as the viewer in the gallery out of the repetition and ennui of his or her life. They counteract the universal numbness that marks our trips to grocery stores, shopping malls and cubicle jobs. By choosing to print these images in the proportion of and on the scale of a wide-screen video monitor, the artists' situate their kiss performances in the fantasy world of celluloid and cinema. Within the conventions of cinema-especially in its early, heavily censored heyday-the kiss represents the end of anticipation and the on-screen expression of the sex act itself, with a happily-ever-after future strongly implied. Like the numberless, carefully crafted love stories of the movies, The Kisses of Resistance re-present our own world back to us in the form of our fantasies.
Similar to the kiss staged inside a butcher shop, the pair finds themselves locked in embrace again inside a mundane office interior occupied by a white-haired woman engrossed in paperwork. A red office plant with slender leaves bursting from its center is echoed by a floral, electric blue barrette in Plaisance's dark hair and suggests the figurative "fireworks" of a first kiss. Also playing off the drab, muted pink of the interior space is the heightened pink of Barre's bright salmon-colored shirt. Again, caught up in their uncontrollable kiss, Barre and Plaisance insert authenticity and passion into the lackluster environs.
One of the more romantic images from The Kisses of Resistance series is an image of the couple locked in an embrace in front of an unconquerably tall heap of garbage. Situated underneath a tempestuous sky, the couple is dwarfed by the overwhelming sublimity suggested by both the man-made mountain of trash and the natural turbulence of the cloudy sky-a dizzying, overpowering sensation that ultimately echoes their own kiss. Yet, though their kiss momentarily offers the titular "resistance," it ultimately appears futile. Enacted as a series of orchestrated The Kisses of Resistance, the staged moments of passion replicate the formulaic Hollywood film and suggest two things in their repetition: first, a compulsive search for an escape from the dead world into which they hope to breathe life, and second, the final inadequacy of such a gesture. The multiple re-enactments and documentations of these acts is inscribed with the same underlying form as that which it hopes to resist-the repetition of supermarket aisles, the proliferation of office memos and forms and the ceaseless flow of waste that fills our marginal spaces. The Kisses of Resistance, reveals the intertwined play of passion and repetition that both defines and works against the nature of desire. Reminiscent of Turner's motifs-the delicate pattern of her stenciled wall decor or the varied forms of her faux chocolates-a penchant for repetition is bound up in the notion of romance. (In his book, Neo-Baroque: A Sign of Times [Princeton University Press:1992], Omar Calabrese attributes a governing "aesthetic of repetition" to the late twentieth century as a sign of our culture's devotion to varied, but ultimately repetitive narrative and stylistic form.)
Appropriately, Annie Strader's Bound to Love revels in the superfluous repetition of made-to-sell, cleverly marketed love. Currently a visiting artist and faculty member at the School of Art and Design, Wichita State University in Kansas, Strader received her MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and he BFA from Ohio University, Athens. Using countless vintage romance novels, Strader transforms them into individual heart forms. To do so, Strader literally turns each novel inside out and staples its pages together to form a permanent heart shape-a shape as hackneyed and kitsch as the novels themselves. Stacked into a corner and creating a natural valley in their collective shape, the novels hint at repetition, blind proliferation and heedless excess-the decadent discard and aftermath of a private binge piled high into the margins of the corner. With this implied self-indulgence comes not the love of another, but finally an addiction to the euphoric effects of the romance of romance itself, of being subsumed by the fantasy of the novel to remain in a perpetual state of longing. Like Barre and Plaisance's nod toward filmic love stories, Strader's Bound to Love is driven from within by a need to become permanently lost in the countless pages of novels that tell the same story, if in varied guises, of counts and ladies, playboys and ingenues or cowboys and farmer's daughters. Like the motifs of binding and release innate to the romance novels' nickname "bodice rippers," Bound to Love suggests a self imposed perpetuation of longing and desire that intensifies the sensation of release (that, like the single book's relation to the whole mass of books, is itself a feeling of merging into the collective).
Bound to Love is ultimately a proliferation of copies- replicas that echo one another rather than point to an original source. In a similar gesture Jennifer Wall's brooch, Big Hair Cameo (2008) plays with an oft-repeated form from Victoriana, the cameo, and its ovular borders. Wall is currently pursuing her MFA in Metalsmithing and Jewelry at the University of Oregon after receiving a double-emphasis BFA from Colorado State University in Fort Collins in Metalsmithing and Graphic Design. True to its title, Big Hair Cameo pictures an alabaster-white profile of a woman whose long waves of hair cascade over the borders of the cameo brooch with the seductive promise of engulfing the spectator in its mass. Brimming with a Rapunzel-esque sensuality, it recalls a moment from Alfred Noyes' The Highwayman. Unraveling the star-crossed romance between Bess, the daughter of an innkeeper, and a thief, Noyes describes the illicit meeting of the two lovers: "...[S]he loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand / As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;/ And he kissed its waves in the moonlight..." Foreshadowing the characters' final union in death at the poem's tragic end, this passage depicts the only moment of contact between the lovers and suggests the physicality of sex. Just as the girl's hair overflows its border and enters the space of her lover, the act of sex seems to erase the boundaries between individual bodies.
Similarly, the motif of excess as deployed by Wall suggests the final outcome of pushing against restraint: an overflow into the space of the viewer that suggests the mergence of two otherwise distinct spaces. Similarly, Wall's Merge (2007) (see image this page bottom) suggests the deterioration of borders. Showing two identical feminine silhouettes burned out of a single piece of felt and facing one another as if to kiss, Merge suggests a woman gazing raptly into a mirror as much as it does a lesbian kiss. To replicate oneself via romantic love ultimately suggests the procreative aspect of sexuality: to make a copy of oneself, but perhaps more importantly for this exhibition, it calls up the deepest promise of and peril to romance. As its title suggests, the two women are on the verge of becoming one entity, of fulfilling a unity promised by sexuality.
With the longing to become part of a couple-to perfectly mirror oneself in the object of his or her desire-is the threat of going too far. The implied outcome of such a threat entails a loss of the difference that sparks desire, thus providing entrance into a narcissistic, autoerotic zone or perhaps the very eradication of desire itself. Either way (if these notions can be truly separated) it implies a disintegration of self. It is a notion imbued with both pleasure and fear that is hinted at by Hinant's overwhelming array of stars that promise to engulf the spectator, Barre and Plaisance's tragic kiss in front of a rotting pile of trash or Gushwa and Lauck's looping image the self-same, perfectly blonde twin girls.
Also dealing with notions of repetition and excess is Erin Rose Gardner's jewelry. Living and working in Portland, Oregon, Gardner recently graduated with a BFA in Metalsmithing and Jewelry from the University of Oregon, Eugene. Made primarily from mass-manufactured rings and pendants, each series reflexively plays with the notion of jewelry as a token of love as well as its status as a commodity. Marking a stage prior to love (or, to the fulfillment of love), Gardner's Promise Ring Shadows (2006) are casts of a promise ring on a wearer's finger that in turn may be worn as a ring itself. Either functioning as a pre-engagement ring (usually announcing the monogamous commitment of a couple thought to be too young to be engaged) or as a chastity ring that declares the wearer's commitment to celibacy until marriage, promise rings are emblems that connote expectation and willingness to postpone the fulfillment of desire (interestingly, like S&M, it seeks to prolong and bind). In Gardner's series of "shadows" the rings are present only in the form of copy and thus the promise ring's literal absence, even when Gardner's "shadow" ring is worn, suggests either a broken commitment or, since the broad gold-and-silver-toned bands recall the form of a wedding band, the death of anticipation that comes with fulfillment of desire.
Gardner's Ring Series (2007-8) is a series of multiples that uses found rings as the basis for the design of a new rings-sometimes pairing originals and copies to create doubled rings, other times replicating the single decorative motifs of the found rings. In one instance, Gardner creates a cast of four rings stacked together to create a new ring, the uniformity of the cast silver making it a single, cohesive piece of jewelry. In another, a diamond band with the words "I LOVE YOU" pierced into it side is attached to an identical cast, creating a simple, doubled form that has many implications. It recalls the two-person couple that would exchange such a ring, but also, via its twinned form, the threat of losing one's individual identity. Additionally, it points to the mass-manufactured, reproducible form of this ring as pre-made token of the most personal and intimate sentiments. Another ring in the series is a single solitaire diamond ring that has been amended with a tumor-like replication of the set diamond. Growing off the side of the tiny stone, the organic mass upsets the symmetrical balance of the rings' form. Mimicking the deadliest forms of repetition, it suggests a decadent proliferation that is inherent both to the opulence of ornament and the fatal growth of disease whose "decadent" replication ultimately destroys the system on which it depends. Again, desire replicated through careless, unvaried repetition brings about the end of that which engendered it.
Like her rings, Gardner's Heart Pendant (2007) uses mass-produced, "sentimental" jewelry culled by the artist from flea markets and antique stores to create a new object that points back to the meaning inherent in each found piece of jewelry. Playing on the convention of an ornament suspended from a necklace, Heart Pendant is a heavy, entangled mass made up of multiple heart-shaped pendants that are often presented as tokens of love. Notably, each cast pendant is a literal copy since its form is taken from a pre-existing object as well as a figurative "copy." Each tiny heart-though varied superficially by gemstones of subtleties in shape-echoes the others. At the center is a cast of the ring whose band is inscribed with "I LOVE YOU," spelling out in words the meaning bound to these mass-produced symbols of romance. By arranging them in an overall heart-shaped mass, Gardner indicates the proliferation of these forms, sold at every jewelry store in every mall across the country. It is as if their boundless reproduction indicates both the ubiquity of love as well as a lack of uniqueness inherent to such a trite token. Ultimately, Gardner's complex pieces present the question central to the act of repetition as it is propelled by love, lust and desire: does the reiterated gesture or object repeat and prolong the anticipatory excitement of romance or does it reveal its repeatability and status as a mass-made commodity reveal its demise?
Annie Strader's provocatively titled end table Afterglow (2007) was saved for the conclusion of this essay. A found-object sculpture, it simulates a post-love buzz with a glowing pink crystal ball, a porcelain bunny and an abundance of roses surreally growing from the underside of a white table. Re-iterating the abundance of kitschy found objects re-assembled into meaningful, sometimes anthropomorphic, "craft" objects that comprise many works in this exhibition, Afterglow offers up an image of romance's more pleasant after-effects and hints at a desire to prolong love's euphoric effects. Just as roses stubbornly grow and replicate themselves from the most unexpected of places-the underside of a commonplace piece of furniture-so too does love offer the promise of forcing itself through the generations, just as a flower grows from the tiniest chink in a sidewalk. As Turner's works allow handicraft to function as an heirloom that continues the presence of its maker into the generations, our collective notion of romance offers the hope of linking us to the past while anticipating the future.
-Co-curators Rebecca Ray Brantley & Nathanael Roesch, with editorial contributions by Lizzie Zucker Saltz
Rebecca Ray Brantley currently teaches at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, writes Art Notes, a regular art criticism column for Athens' Flagpole Magazine and is completing her MA in Art History at the LDSOA-UGA. This is her third experience curating for ATHICA. Nathanael Roesch is also finishing his MA in Art History at LDSOA-UGA.
They are both grateful for assistant curator Amy Chicola's labors. A long-time ATHICA volunteer she is working on her AB in Comparative Literature and ABJ in Publication Management. She also interns at the University of Georgia Press in Design and Production. Crafting Romance is both Roesch and Chicola's curatorial debut.
When Vadis Turner submitted her fabulous and funny works for our annual mid-summer review, we all laughed in delight and anticipation of bringing Athens' such gloriously well-crafted and provocative craft-based works, an arena of the art world we had yet to fully explore during our seven years of varied exhibits (Mary Tuma's crocheted organ installation in 2003's Visceral being a memorable exception). As our intrepid curators' thorough and enlightening essay alludes to, Turner's work well steeped in the history of feminist art, from the 70's Judy Chicago's to the 90's Liza Lou. With all the lip-biting irony of her antecedents, Turner manages to continue their dialogue in fresh new ways. It tickles me to be able to add its humorous grace notes to Athens blossoming spring, continuing right on through the month of Mother's Day.
I encourage you all to attend some of the delightful affiliated events the curators have dreamed up to compliment Athens' lovely and love-filled spring.
It feels especially timely to offer some lighter fare during a generally and genuinely stressful time in global history: if it were not for the promise of romance and its attendant pleasures, why would bother to fret over national malaise, financial calamities and the growing global insecurity emboldened by changes so rapid we are left reeling? As all these scary changes are played out against the background of the personal relationships we want to protect and nurture, it is vital to remind ourselves that by posing threats to the American birthright's pursuit of happiness, political models of scarcity undermine love itself in its attendant focus on the baser aspects of mere survival.
I applaud the pains our young curators have taken to explicate such a daunting subject as romantic love, and in particular their ability to describe with an eerily surgical precision the mechanisms of desire and fulfillment, refracted though the lens of craft. With references ranging from Corinthian Maids to webcams, they tackled the intricacies of these artists' imaginings with equal parts imagination and respect. Compliments are also due on their choice of these 16 artists and two artist teams from nearly 200(!) submissions, as well as their open-mindedness to a great variety of media. The latter was made manifest by the inclusion of a half-dozen small metalwork artists-so appropriate to this theme-and yet a first for ATHICA. Their passion to share these works with you, our audience, is great indeed, as is evident by their willingness to tackle the sheer logistics involved in bringing together this quantity of quality work from national, international and local artists, with two of them visiting installation artists.
Ms. Turner and Ms. Hinant's visits bring us works in presentational modes not often seen in Athens: we are grateful for the support the Andy Warhol Foundation, which has allowed us, in this, the first of three years of funding, to be able to bring Athens such quality contemporary artists, as well as to nurture this new curatorial talent. We are also, as always, thankful for the patronage and support of our loyal and growing audience. If you haven't joined the 800-plus southerners who are reminded of our events via our listserv, please email email@example.com and ask long-time volunteer Ms. P to sign you up! (No list sharing ever, I promise!)
Despite that funding, we are not yet at the point that we can support all the artists whose work we are delighted to bring you, and so are continually grateful to them for generosity in providing for the transport and loan of their works. In particular, the ten boxes of heart-shaped romance novels sent by Ms. Strader to compose her excellent Bound to Love installation is a real gift.
Kudos are due to JHouse Media, whose ongoing pro-bono support of ATHICA's website is a boon and marvel. Their easy-to-use proprietary software makes it possible for my wonderful interns from LDSAO-UGA's undergraduate ranks to help maintain our growing image and document archives of past exhibits, available long after exhibits close.
If you love what we do, and are able and motivated to help, please consider joining our Key Supporters Campaign. This gives individuals and businesses an opportunity to help keep our doors open-in return your name, the name of a loved one, a child's birthday, or your business logo will be displayed year-round on our Key Supporters banner, right above our sign-in area. We also welcome support from those who prefer to throw their weight behind specific exhibits.
This summer, new Board member, curator and art critic Mary C. Wilson, along with assistant curator, Erin Macintosh, a recent UGA LDSOA MFA graduate and ATHICA Board member will curate ATHICA Emerges III. In fall, Allie Goolrich will make her curatorial debut with an exhibit focusing on he current state of the news media, with our first locally based featured artist Kathryn Refi, as well as work by Athens' Melissa Ho and as Tennessean Melinda Eckley. Goolrich is pursuing her Masters in Media Studies at UGA's Grady College School of Journalism, where she is studying visual culture and cultural criticism as a literary form. For information on submitting works to either of these exhibits please visit www.athica.org/callforentries.php. In January 2010. We continue with the second of the Nurture series of exhibits with Nurture II, our first solo artist exhibition, which will feature large-scale video installations by New York artist Amy Jenkins, including a new work she is creating especially for ATHICA. This fascinating and innovative artist addresses breastfeeding and parenting issues. A sneak preview can be found at: www.amyjenkins.net/artworks.html.
-Lizzie Zucker Saltz, Artistic Director