ONE WORK: “Two Women, One Reality” Installation by Bibi Davidson & Dwora Fried
This is part of an ongoing series of essays focusing on a single artwork. It seems to me that one of the most important things art can do in our fast-paced, virtual/digital world is to force us to slow down and spend time looking. Hopefully, the One Work essays will effect an appreciation of the art that unfolds over time, as well as understanding that builds to broader insight.
By Betty Brown
Los Angeles artists Bibi Davidson and Dwora Fried typically work in distinct media, producing related but disparate work: Davidson is a painter of fantastical figures moving through a Pop Surreal world of shifting gender and sexuality; Fried assembles miniatures into boxed tableaux that address history and identity. Nonetheless, the two women have a lot in common: After rather peripatetic childhoods (one in Israel, the other in Austria), they immigrated to the United States and ended up living within blocks of each other. And they both share memories of inaccessible mothers who often abandoned them.
Those maternal memories shape the installation they have just completed during their residency at Shoebox Projects in the LA Brewery. The gallery space has been transformed into a shadowy 1950s room lined with family photographs and other resonant objects that evoke a nostalgic longing. Aged wallpaper covers the walls. Distressed black and white images float around shelves lined with rusted cans, age-stained bottles and vintage apparatuses (e.g., a tiny old sewing machine). In the center, a child stands in a crib and extends her arms towards a female figure, who is seen from behind as she walks out the door. Her ghostly image is caught in a video loop, so the mother is eternally leaving the tearful child who reaches out for the never-completed embrace.
The heartbreak of the inaccessible mother is articulated visually. Shadowy figures hover on the walls, like boogiemen frightening the child. Ominous black rats and threatening crows clamor in the corners. A bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling, transforming the room into the naked tension of an interrogation site. Or perhaps it is the landscape of a nightmare. And if it is, the nightmare is haunted by the eternally abandoning mother.
J.D. Salinger asserted that “Mothers are all slightly insane.” The insanity of the always-absent mother is, according to therapist Gudrun Zomerland, a form of “closet narcissism,” characterized by the “emotional inability of the mother to turn herself over to the world of the infant.” He adds, “Even though the mother may be able to provide her child with food, shelter and necessary physical care–after all she wants to look good in the eyes of others–she does not truly turn herself over to focus on this new human being. Her self-absorption is primary. In real life this kind of emotional abandonment can have emotional as well as physical consequences for the child.” (http://chinnstreetcounseling.com/zomerland/zomerland_25-5.shtml)
Davidson and Fried have exorcised the demons of maternal abandonment in their expressive installation. Both speak of difficult times during the collaboration, when feelings of anger and loss impacted the process. But in the end, they present a poetic and powerfully evocative artwork. Laden with symbolism both personal and shared, their installation invites, puzzles, and, ultimately, deeply satisfies.
You can experience their work at the closing reception at Shoebox Projects this Thursday October 26th from 6-9pm.