Cece Caro, Katie Shanks, and Stephanie Sherwood Examine Gender Bias in an Experimental Installation at Shoebox Projects
By Genie Davis
Material Identity: Artmaking on the Gender Continuum holds a closing reception Saturday, June 3 from 3-7 p.m. at Shoebox Projects in DTLA. Cece Caro, Katie Shanks, and Stephanie Sherwood who’ve been in residence at Shoebox Projects since May 1st, are seeking insight into how art is experienced in a society clinging to gender biases, as well as the impact of those biases on what it means to be a female artist creating today.
The beautiful works in the show are based on a survey the group decided to distribute asking respondents to rate artistic devices according to personal associations with a particular gender. The devices cited include color palette, textures, scale, speed, material, technique, and genre.
Caro, Shanks, and Sherwood explain that they began their collaboration with a discussion about gender associations made about an artist or artwork when viewing that art. A discussion of the results of their survey became a launching point for a conversation they feel needs to occur across the board. They note that the demographics of their research revealed they are talking in somewhat of an echo chamber: the individuals who demonstrate interest in the subject and discussion are for the most part already involved in or adversely impacted by the gender systems currently upheld by society.
With this in mind, the artists acknowledged that they can only speak for their own experiences, which they decided to examine as women artists and as individual people. The exhibition attempts to find ways to subvert the gender associations and expectations they’ve experienced.
Using their own individual strengths in formal art making, they collaborated on methods and conceptual imagery and materials, taking over Shoebox Projects’ space with a variety of mixed media.
Sherwood notes “Katie Shanks and I have been collaborating on installations now since the beginning of 2015. We have developed an integrated working relationship which plays off our individual strengths and produces immersive, bodily experiences. This is the first project where we have added Cece to the mix—as a longtime friend and powerful critical thinker she has been invaluable to the goals we have for Material Identity.”
The labor-intensive process has been wonderful, Sherwood adds that the ways in which the three have been able to “push concepts and find new ways to communicate visually has far exceeded my expectations; I cannot wait to see how our final installation will look and be experienced by visitors.”
Shanks relates “While so much of the life of a studio artist is spent in solo inquiries, I also come from a background in theatre, which is sort of the ultimate in collaborative art. You’re bringing together writers, performers, technical, and visual artists to build a different world for a short period of time. And then it’s all gone. That, I think was a large contributor in my comfort with the ephemeral nature of installation and the dynamic qualities of working with other creatives.” According to Shanks “The collaborative process that Stephanie and I have developed over the past few years has taken on quite a life of its own—beyond either of our individual practices. So, in a way this is more a collaboration between our established collaborative team and Cecelia, and I couldn’t be more pleased by the results.” Shanks asserts that while she and Sherwood both produce in different mediums, they have similar modes of working. “We’re constantly creating, working very intuitively, throwing everything up and seeing what sticks. While this process leads to a lot of engaging work in a short period of time, often we don’t figure out the crux of the what we are attempting to express until fairly late in that process.”
Her experience with the Shoebox Projects Residency struck a “fantastic balance between that exploration and play while being much more methodically planned and conceptually examined thanks to Cecelia’s intellectual rigor and keen eye.” With the project approaching its closing reception, she notes “It’s funny though, despite the longer run of this project, the advanced research and planning that went into it, I wish we had more time to deep dive the concepts further. Flesh them out more fully before distilling and refining them.”
Cece Caro weighs in: “Having known Katie and Stephanie for many years now and being familiar with their work, I feel like I knew what to expect in terms of working together. Because we’re so familiar and comfortable with each other, discourse on our subject matter has been honest and exhaustive.” She says that largest difficulty was trying to analyze and interpret the survey data, and determine exactly how to translate their thoughts into an actual artwork.
The group recently held a workshop to discuss the concepts and process of Material Identity, and generate feedback for their ideas. After the discussion, the artists facilitated an art-making workshop so visitors could explore a variety of materials and consider the gender-specific expectations of each material. They also looked at ways to push or subvert those expectations, while offering participants a condensed experience of what the three artists are working through in the residency.
They describe their upcoming closing reception as an opportunity to share their completed installation and discuss their ideas with visitors. The three artists hope that the final piece can further a conversation about gender expectations, and seek a wider audience.
Asked whether they would like to continue this type of project, Sherwood replies “I think the ideas we are exploring will continue to be a concern in my own practice, but whether or not I will be exploring them overtly, I’m not sure.”
Shanks says “Gender norms and expectations are a theme that runs through certain elements of my work beyond this project, as well as an interest in shared aspects of the female-lived experience. While we collected a lot of interesting information during this residency, we decided not to attempt any sort of literal translation of it.” Still Shanks is intrigued at the possibility of future projects involving the physical representation of data.
Caro agrees, adding “The topic will take a lot of unpacking and personal examination. I feel like we’ve only barely scratched the surface when it comes to gender and art making. Considering the long history of women and feminist art that has come before me and continues to be made, deciphering where my art fits into this larger context will take some careful thought.” In regard to current issues, contemporary social topics are showing up more strongly in her everyday life and thought processes, influencing her art, Caro concludes. “Attempting to tackle and deal with this is the next progression in my art practice.”
Asked what one thing they most want viewers to know about their work at Shoebox Projects, the artists reply as a group that “The most important idea we would like the work to convey is the goal of finding a new perspective with regards to gender and identity in artmaking. Let’s open up the conversation so that artists and viewers need not feel confined to expectations.”
Shoebox Projects is located at the Brewery Arts Complex at 660 South Avenue 21 #3.