Femininity Deregulated 

click to enlarge Anne Poloshenki’s “Japanese Interior Obliteration” (2006)

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.

click to enlarge Caitlin Miller's Now and Then Times Fifty, 2009

Natalie Osborne' video installation ,“I'm a Mess: Finding My Pace" (2009) is similar in that it relies on the medium as a mode of expression. Projected on a blank gallery wall, the film shows Osborne running through the city' landscape in a black dress and high heels, her face obscured by a large, flat mask. The mask appears almost cartoon-ish with full lips and large, watery eyes bent into a permanent expression of quiet discomfort and resignation. A sinister-sounding gong resonates every few seconds, a strange contrast to the frenzied pace of the film. The scenes have been slightly sped up and random frames are missing, making the video appear disjointed and endowing it with a sort of nervous energy, no doubt the feelings that Osborne is trying to express.

The exhibition' most intriguing piece is Caitlin Miller' ,“Now and Then Times Fifty" (2009, above). Comprised of 50 identical mirrors, each no larger than a fist, the installation lays bare intimate scenes from Miller' imagination. The mirrors are hung equidistant from each other along a blue grid drawn on the gallery wall. Their surfaces are smoky, as if a candle was burned underneath them and stained the glass with soot. Closer inspection reveals that portraits lurk behind these dark shadows; hypersexual photographs of a lone woman on a bed wearing only a corset and underwear peek through the dark surface of the glass. One can only assume it is Miller herself. In some of the photographs, she exudes sensuality, even ecstasy; her parted lips, tousled hair, and gently closed eyes suggest serenity and contentment. Others are uncomfortable scenes of fear in which Miller hugs herself tightly in what looks like self-defense. In the most startling portraits, she is positioned facedown, hands bound behind her back in a sadomasochistic display. And others among these are simply snapshots of normally private occasions.

Miller makes the viewer feel as though he or she has interrupted something; one almost wants to avert their eyes, mutter ,“excuse me," and hurry away. The appeal of ,“Now and Then" lies exactly in this: its frankness. Miller transcends even the vulnerability implicit to nudity, sharing with the viewer her most private moments in a way that feels as intimate as a whisper in the ear. She doesn't just re-tell past events in her life that can be excused or justified. As difficult as revealing the past may seem, it is what goes on inside our heads that makes us who we are, that defines personal identity. She reveals thoughts, anxieties, and desires that may not have even manifested and perhaps never will. Most tellingly, the last mirror on the lower right hand side of the installation is completely clear; the viewer can see his or her own reflection perfectly. Perhaps this is gentle encouragement from Miller to look inward and be just as forthcoming with wants and fears as she is.

Though Strictly Regulated is supposed to be a break from the rigidity of modern life, it feels just as constricting. The artists seem to be towing some sort of invisible line rather than, as the exhibition promises, purely reacting. However, the irony inherent to this analysis can't be ignored. Though not in the ways the viewer anticipates, the works in Strictly Regulated do in fact defy the expectations the exhibition sets up. Cerebral instead of communicative, ambiguous as opposed to explicit, Strictly Regulated lacks the rawness one would expect to accompany a topic as personal as this. But whether this is success or failure or neither depends on the viewer. Either way, the art of Strictly Regulated isn't what one would anticipate, and maybe that' all right. In a world as formulaic as this, one should take a little rebellion wherever it can be found.

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