Transitions at GreenTARA Space Gallery in North Hero, Vermont, features Far from Black and White, an installment by Susan Smereka and Endangered Beauty, an installment by Sabrina Fadial. Their work combines to illuminate our instinctual desire to control our surroundings in order to make sense of the world in which we live. While Smereka reflects upon the human tendency to prioritize progress and purpose, Fadial challenges the notions of function as it relates to femininity. Together their work expresses an alternate perspective that challenges traditional concepts of value, revealing an unexpected sense of purpose that is often overlooked. Smereka and Fadial ask us to consider the minute facets of our lives that may be taken for granted, and reflect upon an essence of existence that is often overshadowed by the systems in which we function, and societal expectations through which we define our ideas of success.
Fadial sets these ideas into motion by making the impermanent permanent and the minute monumental. She forges iron into delicate organic forms that are larger than life. Her medium is traditionally used to build massive structures, and is valued for its industrial assets. Yet Fadial uses iron to explore minute details found in nature. She hammers, twists, and turns red hot iron into delicate forms such as seed pods and flowers. The strength of the metal becomes malleable in her hands, yielding graceful passages of iron that unfurl in space. Removed from the building supply stream, the iron is absolved of its original function, free to take on a new expression as a work of art. Without serving its typical purpose, nor providing an essential function, the value of this iron dramatically shifts. As a work of art it is allowed to appeal to the senses, evoke emotion, and become a tool of inquiry.
The act of metalsmithing holds great meaning to Fadial as it is largely considered a masculine endeavor. Working in a medium that requires considerable strength, and a penchant for sweat and grit, allows Fadial to celebrate a fiercer side of her femininity. Working in a process that is considered masculine, and creating elegant forms that most would describe as feminine, allows Fadial to dispel common cultural associations of traditional gender roles. Fadial’s sculptures take on an aggressive beauty that is startling to see on such a large scale. Their fluidity suggests a moment caught in time, a motion gracefully suspended in space.
Fadial embraces a spontaneous approach to metalsmithing to achieve these effects. While the traditional approach to metalsmithing is meticulous and planned, Fadial’s process is largely informed by impulse. She takes an emotional approach to her work, savoring the opportunity to be spontaneous, and finding inspiration in the detritus of her own artistic process. For Fadial, the most beautiful idea can sometimes come from the haphazard form of a scrap laying on her workshop floor.
The byproduct of the artistic process is central to Smereka’s art as well. She too challenges common notions of value by using scraps of fabric. Instead of casting aside the debris leftover from her projects, she regenerates her artistic waste in order to give value to the seemingly worthless. Smereka is inspired by a call to be resourceful, and an obligation to honor even the smallest scrap. She finds that even the most insignificant piece of material remains significant by virtue of its existence set in motion by her artistic process. The seemingly useless becomes useful again in the context of a new work of art, and takes on new meaning in its relationship to other materials.
Smereka emphasizes the aesthetic value of her material, and challenges her viewer to appreciate a fresh understanding that departs from the original function of the materials she uses. In this way Smereka presents a converse narrative woven together by the backs of tags and snippets of maps and fabrics that are obscured and transformed by her artistic alterations. Her collages ask the viewer to ponder the new significance of these materials, and experience the divergence from their original intention. In this way Smereka develops a sophisticated metaphor that reveals our need to piece together information to make sense of our experience of the world.
Smereka’s metaphor is present in the way she assembles her collages as well. Each piece of material creates its own unique portion of the composition, which is then divided in sections by lines of stitches. Following the tracks of her sewing machine one is confronted by a network of lines, some creating flowing organic shapes, and others that purposefully obstruct the rhythms found underneath. These divisions read like an aerial view of roads and borders, mapping out the systems through which we move, and the structures in which we live. These structures are necessary for our modern existence, provide us with stability and security, yet Smereka’s artwork presents them as superficial, delicate, and almost transient.
The human tendency to impose our own sense of order on the world is even more apparent in Smereka’s Burlington Series in which she paints satellite imagery of Burlington neighborhoods on panels of birchbark. The birchbark provides the backdrop for the familiar network of buildings and roads. The bold geometry painted over the birchbark almost causes it to go undetected at first, but at a second glance it is understood that this is the foundation on which these intersections of life are built.
Both Smereka’s and Fadial’s artwork remind us of the importance of the natural world in its own right, and acknowledge the essential role that even the smallest details play in the structures we have developed to organize our lives. Paying attention to these details allows us to ground ourselves in the truth that even the most trivial element can have value, especially if that value departs from the original intent to take on new meaning.
Water, Sacred Water
Water, Sacred Water at GreenTARA Space Gallery in North Hero, Vermont, offers a glimpse into a decade-long project explored by artist Janet Fredericks. This body of work developed in collaboration with fellow artist Dona Seegers, poet Guy Jean, as well as Fredericks’ longtime muse, water. Fredericks composes a visual cascade of water’s mystical qualities, expressing it as an intangible essence rather than a substance. She achieves this visual effect by integrating with her subject, and becoming part of the river’s world by jumping in to embark on the act of creation underwater. Through this process Fredericks formed an intimate relationship with water, a connection which she passes on through her artwork. Her reverence towards water offers encouragement to live in the moment, just as she did while creating these pieces, in order to access a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
The idea to submerge her paper and draw underwater came to Fredericks spontaneously. On a warm sunny day she brought a large piece of paper down to the New Haven River. On a whim she let her paper sink in the water and found that the most amazing patterns came into focus. The water revealed a new language that Fredericks was instantly compelled to record. She stood in the river for an hour drawing the flow and ripples that passed over her sunken paper. Through this experience she realized that the water heightened her intuition and sharpened her senses. She felt more alive standing in the rushing water. Fredericks likens this occurrence to a divine intervention. It forever changed her perspective as an artist, deepened her personal connection to the natural world, and helped her understand that water is the physical manifestation of our lifecycle.
Water’s currents are a reaction to the land it passes over, existing only as a flickering moment in time. Fredericks’ drawings express this manifestation through rhythm and movement. In Golden River Scroll the visual thrust of the current pulls the viewer in, suspended over passages of calm. In Folded Bend in The River light streams over a backdrop of pebbles dancing in the water. Fredericks abandoned formal drawing techniques in order to illustrate the spirit of the moment. Often an artist maintains a certain command of her materials, but to convey the true language of the river, Fredericks realized she must relinquish control. The river is also an artist in these works, at times unexpectedly floating Fredericks’ paper downstream, or asserting its will to wash away the marks of her hand; after all it is in water’s nature to deconstruct. But water also creates, leaving pools and trickles on Frederick’s paper which buckles and curls off the gallery wall.
Working in tandem with the river eventually gave way to another form of collaboration within the ebb and flow of fellow humans. In 2000 Fredericks engaged in a 2-year collaboration with Maine artist Dona Seegers. The artists would send each other water drawings through the mail. First, one artist would submerge a large sheet of watercolor paper into a stream, lake, or the ocean, and record the language unique to that particular body of water. Then, she would let the piece dry, roll it up, and mail it to the other artist. Each artist would repeat this process in a new body of water, responding to the marks of past experiences while adding elements from her current moment.
Fredericks and Seegers would eventually end up with over 24 drawings produced in the waters of Vermont and Maine. Lexicon was created in this way, as a correspondence between three artists; Fredericks, Seeger, and the water. Drawn with sediment from the earth and pigment wash, Lexicon has the visual quality of an ethereal cave painting. The symbols and gestures on the paper speak to a deeper meaning embedded within the artwork. Layers of washes create a depth of space on which forms float freely, skimming the surface, swimming underneath, sometimes barely visible and just out of reach. The abstract quality of this piece serves as an entry point, allowing the viewer to jump into the waters of their own mind to find its meaning through personal interpretation.
Our quest to understand the world around us drives the creative process, and what can’t be expressed visually can be illuminated verbally. Water, Sacred Water features poetry by Canadian poet Guy Jean, developed in collaboration with Fredericks in a project and book entitled Et l’eau répondit… [And Water Answered… ]. Three of Jean’s poems and an excerpt from their book are hung alongside Fredericks’ paintings. The poems are presented in their original French verse alongside the author’s English translation. Jean’s poetry celebrates the art of language, offering a vehicle to further transport the viewer into the moment, such as in J’inventerais des mots [I shall fashion words] excerpted from Et l’eau répondit…[And Water Answered… ]:
… so then
I’ll call your speech flowing on rocks and pebbles:
The movements of your lips
an unknown language
teach my lips to shape sounds I’ve never said.
Working together Fredericks and Jean illuminate the flowing consciousness that they each experience when contemplating the sounds and patterns of water. This is evident in Fredericks’ own verse as well: a journey between worlds / I am neither present nor absent / where mysteries of the soul / germinate.
Water has the ability to communicate, and when given the chance provides direction and meaning. It speaks to us in the infinite ways it reflects and responds to its surroundings, whether urban neighborhoods or mountain streams. We know water is our primary source, and have always needed it in order to survive, replenish our inner reserves, and to cleanse ourselves. Fredericks’ artwork asks us to look beyond the ways water can serve us, and to consider the ways in which we can serve water. We may begin this process just as Fredericks did; by jumping in, watching, listening, and trying to hear what water has to say. Through Fredericks artwork we may access a conscious shift towards a deeper understanding of our inseparable nature by recognizing and honoring water’s energetic power, its spiritual value, and its life force.
In an age of uncertain complexities, Lion Roar at GreenTARA Space in North Hero, Vermont, offers a calmness rooted in our spiritual connections with the Earth. Artwork by Janice Walrafen, Suki Ciappara, and Diane Elliott Gayer evoke this sacred connection through tactile arts born of ancient tradition, wisdom, and harmony. The meditative quality of Lion Roar opens the door to a holistic selfhood that nourishes the soul, conveyed by each artist’s exploration of a deeper existence.
The series of masks by Janice Walrafen present the engaging personalities of diverse spiritual allies. A selection of masks were inspired by the artist’s seven day walk-about during which Walrafen fasted to encourage healing, vision, and to liberate herself of that which no longer served her. Each mask represents a specific idea corresponding to life’s journey, and the resulting self discovery acquired along the way. Each mask is an expression, conjuring a benevolent presence through empathy and affinity.
Many of these masks were created to be worn, offering a transformative power through their performative origins. Their clay faces are adorned with beads, boughs, feathers, leaves, some with magical traces of tulle and glittering pipe cleaners. The various shapes and sizes of human, animal, and abstract faces echo the rhythmic existence of all Earth’s species. Every apparent difference is an essential ingredient to the recipe of life; each character creating a dynamism in concert with the art around it.
Just as Walrafen’s masks symbolize metamorphosis, the felted pieces by Suki Ciappara offer a metaphor of transformation inherent to the properties of working with felt. The push and pull of fibers, teased apart, and gathered together creates an ebb and flow within each composition. The visceral nature of the wool fibers generates a physical presence that is felt without being touched. By simply viewing Ciappara’s pieces, one can understand the sensations of touch, the softness and warmth that resides within each piece. They break the barrier of sensation by conjuring a physical sensation through sight alone. This unexpected experience belongs to the realm of spiritual expansion, defying the rules of logic in order to achieve an abstract understanding of existence.
The series of weavings by Diane Elliott Gayer, titled Ancestor Voices, is inspired by the Five Elements; Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. The visual effect is one of transcendence in the case of Gayer’s weavings, which present large blocks of color akin to a Color Field painting. The resonating colors produce a meditative effect that departs from weaving’s utilitarian heritage, breaking through to modern abstraction. Weaving is one of the earliest art forms, developing from the usefulness of interlacing branches and grasses to form shelters, nets, and mats. The connection to its ancient origins is evident in the functionality of its form and the harmony of the warp and weft.
Gayer’s personal history also inspired Ancestor Voices. The experience of exploring boxes of remembrances passed down by her late mother provided the foundation for these contemplative pieces. The timing of their creation, during the rise of the 2020 pandemic, also informed their meaning. The convergence of past and present, seen and unseen, are apparent in the poetry Gayer wrote to accompany each weaving: I bow to you in prayer / I give thanks to you in grief / I remember you in this time of stillness / and dream of other futures / on your winged flight – excerpt from April Sky, 2020. These poems illuminate the overall theme of Lion Roar, which is grounded in respect for the Earth, reverence of the past, and hope for the future.
Lion Roar emanates energetic healing and flowing compassion, celebrating the human spirit, and our moment along the thread of history. Lion Roar taps the power of visually soothing and meditative artwork, while creating an atmosphere charged with optimistic inspiration. The spiritual qualities of life, including the unseen forces of our ancestors, will always remain available to ground us in the present moment. No matter what extenuating circumstance is thrust upon us, we will always have the ability to return to the fundamental ideas that allow us to gain our bearings and reacquaint ourselves with our spiritual self.
Where do you Draw the Line
Where do you Draw the Line featuring the works of Tuyen My Nguyen and Barbara Waters is on view at GreenTARA Space in North Hero, VT through October 6th, 2019. Exploring the impact of The US/Mexico border wall, Where do you Draw the Line presents analysis of its impact on human, environmental, and spiritual habitat through visual interpretation and photographs of the wall itself. The exhibition uses the power of art to move the politically charged topic out of the frenzy of the media into a space of contemplation to consider the consequences of drawing an impermeable line across the land.
Line is central to Barbara Waters’ monotype prints. She uses horizontal lines to create meandering intersections where the land meets the sky. In her panoramic prints she portrays vast landscapes with color gradations that create a sense of distance spanning as far as the eye can see. There is, however, another type of line in Waters’ prints: the vertical line, repeated one after another, also as far as the eye can see. These lines form the border wall. These lines divide and obstruct, representing a shift in perspective that undermines our roll as stewards of the environment in order to enforce a political mandate.
The border wall violates countless laws that were established to protect the environment. It prevents the natural movement of species that thrive on freedom and drastically alters fragile ecosystems including a UNESCO world heritage site. Waters presents the environmental protection laws that were dismantled in order to legally complete the border wall in Borderlands: Ghosts of Protections Past. In rows of lines mimicking the physical structure of the wall, Waters lists the 48 laws the government waived in order to erect a structure that would span the US/Mexico border. Some of these laws include The Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Where do you Draw the Line includes a presentation of articles that delve into the history of the border and the Mexican-American war of 1848, when Mexico was forced to sign over 525,000 square miles of territory to the US. The legal issues surrounding the structure are discussed along with the myriad of environmental consequences, including the hazard it poses for over 90 endangered and threatened species, the expected increase in flooding due to obstructed waterways, the division of tribal nations, and the seizure of private land. The literature also sheds light on smaller details that hold great significance such as The Bureau of Land Management quietly removing their conservation-focused mission statement from all agency news releases.
Photographs that Waters took at the wall in Douglas, Arizona offer a glimpse of the structure in reality: barbed concertina wire looped in curls, the clear blue sky abruptly intersected, tourists taking pictures, and the distant horizon of a Mexican mountain range obscured behind jail-like bars. To expand on her metaphor of line Waters includes prints of multiple organic lines woven together like a fabric. But in Democracy: Frayed Edges and Mending Project the fabric has torn, appearing vulnerable, tired, and worn. In Ask the Right Question Waters uses a series of strong lines again, this time united in a lattice pattern. These pieces comment on the frailty of the US government while acknowledging the potential to address the deeper issue raised by the border wall.
The humanitarian crisis unravelling as a result of the wall is palpable when standing in front of Tuyen My Nguyen’s installation threadbarrier. Lines of black fishing twine reach from floor to the ceiling, arranged in the same even rows as the bars of the border wall. Situated between the entrance to the gallery and the rest of the exhibit, threadbarrier requires anyone who enters the gallery space to navigate its presence. Sets of life-size clay hands created by Georgia Landau gently grasp the thread, reaching forward, and in places parting the obstruction as easily as one might part a curtain. The disembodied hands memorialize the lives that have been lost, including the distinctly small and vulnerable hands of children.
The position of the hands, on the brink of crossing forward from behind the barrier, addresses the concept that fueled the construction of the border wall. Caught in a state of limbo, the hands are never allowed forward into the space occupied by the viewer. As just mere hands without bodies they are devoid of identity. They maintain their position as part of the wall, and therefore part of the problem. They are a reminder of how ‘the other’ is perceived, and in many cases feared because the differences in ‘other people’ challenge the truths we build. The border wall was erected because of that fear. It is an attempt to remain separate and encapsulate our culture instead of enriching it with others.
detail of threadbarrier by Tuyen My Nguyen with hands by Georgia Landau
Born of Vietnamese refugees, Tuyen My Nguyen empathizes with the immigrant’s struggle to make a better life. Her family settled in Louisiana, in an area that would eventually be hit by hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the disaster, Tuyen’s parents remained committed to rebuilding their community despite the level of decimation and dwindling population. It is significant to Tuyen that the feat of repairing the local infrastructure was achieved in part by the efforts of migrant workers from south of the border. They showed up to help when many were fleeing the wake of the disaster, joining together for the greater good of the remaining community.
As a barrier made of twine, threadbarrier is ultimately meant to be irrational. Its ineffectiveness mirrors the wall’s failure to address the complex issues surrounding immigration, xenophobia, and the human rights violations that cause people to seek asylum in another country. threadbarrier is fragile, reflecting the delicate nature of our relationships with one another when our need to become a secluded nation overshadows our potential to demonstrate decency toward others along with respect for our planet.
Nature itself is constantly in flux, existing with an ebb and flow that does not observe the human tendency to set parameters and boundaries. The wild chaos of ecosystems, of which humans are an integral part, thrives only with the freedom to move and exist in tandem with this on going and dynamic ebb and flow. The border wall disrupts this, preventing species from fleeing danger and unfavorable habitats, restricting migratory patterns, and impeding the health and procreation of local wildlife. By creating an impassable barrier that divides the continent, we are developing more physical, social, and economic problems, while solving nothing. It is time to ask the right question – where do we draw the line?
Of Earth: Image and Clay
Of Earth: Image and Clay featuring the works of John Douglas and Joan Watson will be on view from July 19 to August 25 at GreenTARA Space in North Hero, VT, with an opening reception Friday July 26 from 5-8pm. Casting a look into the past, present, and future of our relationship with our environment Of Earth: Image and Clay ponders this moment in time, and the uncertainty of our industrialized world. To counter the anxieties of this reality, the exhibit calls upon us to inquire into the complexities of modernity and to promote a deeper understanding of our relationship to the environment.
Today the Earth’s resources are being used to increase the comfort, pleasure, and productivity of humankind. The global-warming reality conjured in John Douglas’ Auto-Warming Series cautions against the consequences of this relationship. His prints are a fascinating display of expanding skylines, oil platforms, and flooding waters. This is an environment that has been completely spent. The recurring imagery of row upon row of submerged cars refers specifically to the auto industry. Owning a vehicle has now become an extension of the self due to the necessity perpetuated by the demands of our consumer/commuter culture. This industry is most American because the automobile has always been our symbol of freedom. It is uncomfortable to imagine a reality without this liberty, but these images ask us to contemplate the cost of this privilege.
The method that Douglas uses to create his Auto-Warming prints reveals the extent of which technology is capable of fabricating reality. Just as a painter uses a brush to create surfaces and blend colors, Douglas maps out his futuristic reality with a mouse and keyboard, using Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) to form his composition. All aspects of the creative process are under complete control, thoroughly manipulated, and strikingly absent of human touch. The effect is so convincing it is hard to believe that Douglas’ computer generated prints are not actual photographs of real places. In addition to achieving a hyper realistic visual effect, working with CGI shows us the seemingly limitless possibilities of rendering through programming. The capability of constructing a proxy for the environment seems like an impossible outcome, but in the future depicted by Douglas’ imagination we see how close to that reality we really are.
As the Auto-Warming Series projects the viewer into a future of consequence, Douglas also presents photographs that reference a reassuring vision. A small rocky island in the middle of Lake Champlain defiantly faces the Auto-Warming prints. This island is a natural rock formation that Vermont’s indigenous Abenaki personify as Ojihozo, a being who was formed from the dust sprinkled over the Earth by their creator. In Ojihozo’s struggle to gather his newly created self, he grasped the land for support, pushing against the Earth with such force that up sprang the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. Using these mountains as support, Ojihozo lifted himself from the Earth, leaving behind a great indentation that filled with water, forming Bitawbagok, commonly known today as Lake Champlain. Ojihozo returned to the middle of the lake and sat down to become one with Earth again, turning to stone in his final resting place.
At the heart of the tale of Ojihozo is a reverence for nature interwoven with the human experience. To identify more closely with Earth, the Abenaki align themselves with its formation, as the two are one and the same. To the Abenaki, Ojihozo is a valuable island because it personifies their creation story and serves as a reminder that humankind is part of Earth, and only possible because of Earth. The Abenaki perspective contrasts with the more prevailing view that nature exists as a resource, is coveted as a raw material, and valued only for its transformation into a usable substance. The only way to counter the harsh inevitability of an Auto-Warming future is to believe in the value of the Earth beyond the standards of industry and economic gain.
Adding strength to this standpoint are Joan Watson’s Rock Formations. Occupying the same space as the viewer, the rock sculptures offer a grounding presence in their familiar form. They assume the role of companions, each with their individual character, to cultivate a sense of connection. In the setting of the gallery, Watson’s sculptures demonstrate the potential for a relationship based on the mutual benefit of simply existing together. The versatility of clay allows it to be transformed into almost anything, yet Watson has chosen rocks as her subject; a simple element elevated as art to be revered and appreciated.
Clay is one of the oldest materials of creation, dating back roughly 20,000 years. It is one of the earliest mediums used to create functional objects, which in turn provided surfaces for creative expression and communication. Sculpting with clay is one of the earliest steps in the evolution of technology, however at some point the sense of partnership between the creator and the medium was lost. Responding to the human hand, clay cultivates an intimate relationship; volume must be built from the core, working from the inside out. The artist’s intuitive response is achieved by feeling the material and understanding its properties, guiding the clay to its final form.
The hierarchy of sculptural art versus functional art affirms the message that value does not have to be determined by usefulness. There is a dichotomy of functional art versus sculptural art. As a tool, functional art serves a greater purpose for its owner, however the standards of art dictate that once something is able to be used, it’s meaning is diminished at the sake of the service it provides. A sculpture, appreciated solely as art, increases its value both conceptually and monetarily. This notion of hierarchy is important, yet hardly considered when it comes to Earth. If we can elevate the value of the environment above that of a commodity it will regain the level of importance it deserves. After all, it is the original masterpiece and is therefor priceless.
This change in perspective is essential to preserve the Earth’s ability to sustain human existence. Douglas’ Auto-Warming Series anticipates a future that is over industrialized, resulting from the will to command and maintain complete control of the environment for national interests and personal economic gain. But the sense of urgency expressed in his prints is not without hope when juxtaposed with the Ojihozo Series and Watson’s Rock Formations. The possibility of a relationship based on reverence and respect is the first step towards changing course. Human kind exists in alliance with the Earth, not despite it, and acknowledging this relationship is where the shift towards a healthier planet begins. Of Earth: Image and Clay inspires a conscientious look at our values, a reassessment of our material instincts, and a re-acknowledgment of our sense of creation.
Identities: Cultural Creations
Identities: Cultural Creations featuring artwork by Misoo and Wendy Copp is on display at GreenTARA Space until July 14th, 2019. In the midst of a contemporary culture that habitually overlooks the female perspective, Misoo and Copp have created artwork that illuminates their personal identity in a way that insists on respect and serves to empower those who encounter it. By creating imaginary realities for the viewer to experience, Misoo and Copp project a deeper meaning that can only be understood by abandoning the traditional frame of reference.
In the reality occupied by Misoo’s paintings she reigns supreme. Pulling from her experiences as a minority, and the sense of alienation felt as an Asian woman in Vermont, she created The Giant Asian Girls and The Giantess Series. To surpass her imposed cultural identity she amplifies her self and her message. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse she uses art to regain her power, heal, and reframe the world that women, minorities, and abuse survivors occupy. She manifests the sentiment best stated by Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Stepping in front of a painting by Misoo, the viewer is greeted by a grand woman with a chorus of collaged imagery depicting common cartoons and the triumphs of man as found in history books. Despite the sheer volume of collaged imagery within each painting, those moments are strikingly insignificant compared to the presence of each woman who sits upon them. Each subject’s silent stare speaks louder than the many voices surrounding her. In fact it is only within the figure that a calm moment can be found, and in this calmness is depth, and strength, and the power Misoo wishes to share. Her women are regal and composed. Almost all are making eye contact in that way that only a painting can; with a gaze that is always direct. The eyes silently say “I am here.”
The Giant Asian Girls Series addresses violence against women and the racial stereotypes experienced by Asian women in Western society. In defiance of the Western fetishization of Asian women, the subjects in these portraits are dressed in everyday clothes, and assume relaxed positions that accentuate their comfort, and not the sexuality of their body. The Giantess Series includes similarly empowered women who are real life abuse survivors. The artist’s intent is to restore the sense of self worth that is lost when abused, and bring to life the presence of her cultural and feminine identity in epic proportions.
Misoo’s paintings draw the viewer in by demanding attention with their massive presence, amplified in contrast to the intricacy of the collaged elements. A reoccurring theme within each collage is the relationship of man to the land; here he is conquering a frontier, felling a tree, waging a war. There is his house of worship, defying gravity in the name of religion. This onslaught of information brings the viewer to an extreme point of contemplation, which is gently transformed into meditation once Copp’s sculptures enter the narrative.
Copp’s pieces are a remembrance of our relationship to the earth, and a renewal of our perspective of how we are linked to nature. Where Misoo orients through contrast, Copp does so through connection. Her sculptural assemblages of natural materials take on familiar forms: animal masks with character, dresses and shoes reminiscent of high fashion. The thought of entering a sculpture and wearing it brings about the possibility of fully merging with nature to form an identity that honors the earth and the feminine spirit that Copp represents in her compositions.
At certain points in her life Copp has set out into the wilds of Vermont with a pack and a horse. On these lengthy solo journeys she immersed herself in nature. These experiences allowed her to access her instincts, and left a lasting impression that is evident in the visceral quality of her sculptures, and the method in which she approaches her art practice. Her creative process starts in nature with the choice of barks, leaves, and grasses she collects, and mirrors the evolution of nature by honoring the inevitability of change, decomposition, and renewal. Her sculptures are not static when presented in the gallery, but are seen in a phase of their evolution, bound to grow again into new forms.
Many of her sculptures are made of the invasive Phragmites grass, which grows in great thickets all across Vermont and the US. Phragmites’ imposing height decreases wetland biodiversity by blocking the sun from other plants, and creates an unfavorable habitat for fauna by growing in dense clusters. In the areas that Phragmites has taken over, it is impossible for native plant and animal ecology to survive and flourish. By using this material Copp acknowledges invasive dominance as an inherent characteristic of nature, but also uses it as a metaphor for aggressive human encroachment, which has become overbearing and devastating for the earth.
It is in this way that Copp shares her perspective that being marginalized and encroached upon can be intrinsic to being a woman. While traveling alone in the woods of Vermont she found that a bear rummaging nearby would illicit fear, but it was only when unknown persons were in proximity that she felt a sense of potential danger. In these moments she was most aware that she was vulnerable as a woman alone. In defiance of that sensation she cultivated the courage to continue to experience the world, despite that underlying sense of vulnerability. With this perspective her dresses and shoes can be observed as sculptural armor, adorned to protect and embolden.
Identities: Cultural Creations celebrates the defiance of fear and vulnerability while promoting inner strength, the feminine spirit, and the courage to persevere as a minority. Both artists have triumphed in their presentation of artwork that does not limit itself to a display of what they can create, but acts as a convincing demonstration of who they can be. By stepping outside the constructs perpetuated by history, society, and common perspectives, they offer the pleasure of art that speaks to the core, offering a hope of connection and understanding. As Jericho Brown stated “hope is always accompanied by the imagination, the will to see what our physical environment seems to deem impossible. Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.” And so have Misoo and Wendy Copp wielded such hope.