Femininity Deregulated

10/16/2009 4:10 PM |

Fort Greene’ Corridor Gallery promises a portrait of female rebellion. The small, austere space is currently dedicated to Strictly Regulated (through November 7), a 6 artist exhibition with an entirely female roster seeking to expose the ways that the world’ expectations on women can inhibit creativity and create psychological boundaries. Caitlyn Miller, Natalie Osborne, Emily Orling, Anne Poloshenki, Sarah Singh, and Janeva Zentz react to cultural assumptions stemming from suburban life and domesticity, divulging their insecurities and coping methods. The strongest works in the show are the most genuine. Admitting one’ limits, self-imposed or not, is frightening, even if we are just admitting them to ourselves; in an exhibition as personal as this, honesty and candor are imperative. But in the end, Strictly Regulated is unable to deliver on that promise. Granted, a few of the artists relish the challenge, maybe finding confession therapeutic, or perhaps they’re simply unafraid. Others among them merely hint at their frustration with societal restraints, and some don’t seem to say much at all.

Emily Orling‘ wall installation ” Year of Silence” (2009) takes objects that one would find in a typical suburban home (canned foods, discarded toys, picture frames, metal washers) and re-positions them within a gallery setting. Her oil painting, “Eggs” (2009), does the same, just in a different medium. The huge, Warhol-esque canvas depicts exactly that, 33 eggs arranged in a grid, sunny side up. Removing these items from their original frame of reference forces them to stand on their own as aesthetically pleasing or not, free from the burdens of implication. While her subjects are inherently linked to ideas of domesticity, asking the viewer to re-imagine them entirely outside of their usual context excludes Orling from the dialogue. She stages the scene, but offers no commentary.

This sort of literal representation feels out of place in an exhibition that is built upon personal testimony. Janeva Zentz’ video installation , “The Light is On” (2009) falls into a similar trap. A continuous loop of Zentz dancing like a child and playing with a Skip-It, the 90s era Tiger Electronics toy, in a small apartment feels contrived. It is more of a spectacle than an honest response and offers no tangible insight into Zentz at all.

Two works in the show come a bit closer to the exhibition’ promise of personal exploration. In Anne Polashenki‘ ,“Japanese Interior Obliteration” (2006, above), her female subject has literally collapsed beneath the weight of domestic expectations. A modern day papier colle, ,“Japanese Interior” depicts a living room made up entirely of a black and white Japanese floral wood block print. Every surface is covered in this motif, from the couch to the window treatments, to the walls, rendering the image nearly incomprehensible. The work’ sole figure is a paper cutout of a woman suspended in the center of the image, draped across what appears to be a chaise lounge. Though the flesh of her arms and legs that aren’t covered by her demure sweater-and-skirt ensemble are visible (as is a wedding ring), her face is obscured by the same pattern, rendering her anonymous and expressionless. What first appears as some sort of ominous-looking tendril sneaks behind the chaise, perhaps the most literal depiction of the titled ,“obliteration.” But a closer look reveals it to be nothing more than a houseplant placed near her head. The message is obvious: achieving domestic bliss, both materially and mentally, is oppressive and maybe impossible.

One Comment

  • What makes presenting feminist causes different from others is that many times, people have a lot of exposure to the misinformation surrounding feminism, but rarely know any of the truths. There are also many conflicting feminist perspectives, so one must be more deliberate in explaining which position they advocate.

    The Zentz piece had me slightly confused – the ‘skip-it’ was a toy designed for both boys and girls, so I’m forced to wonder if the toy had any significance relevant to the exhibit or her (supposedly) repressed youth.

    It seems as if Polashenki’s piece reinforced the unapolagetic ‘equality and equality now’ mantra of women’s liberation second-wave feminism. The near-comatose positioning of the figure on the couch seems to say “Women are in such dire need of an immediate shift. Where we are now is quite literally killing us.”

    Miller’s piece works on a different level. Miller takes the sexuality that has been imposed on her, and turns it back against the viewer. In a very third-wave feminist fashion, Miller wields her sexuality as if it were some sort of tool. By taking ownership of the societal female sexual standards and perversions that existed long before her, Miller manages to assert her control over them.

    It’s no accident that links can be seen between the two strongest pieces in the exhibit and two popular feminist movements. Great art comes from compelling ideas. The suffragettes didn’t simply want the vote, they absolutely needed to have it. And as Einstein said, “True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the artist.”