Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art, Rancho Cucamonga through November 23
Written by Jacqueline Bell Johnson
It starts with a video piece exploring the charms of these creatures that are among us. “Will they turn to violence?” it is asked, the sound of the words lingering in that first alcove of the museum. It is presented on a cathode ray TV and the looped video has a dated aesthetic of the early eighties. This equating of women to animals, likened to unpredictable aggressors, can be taken as tongue-in-cheek or a shot across the bow. The video is Nancy Buchanan’s These Creatures from 1979. The piece seemingly sides with men, making them out to be potential victims. But the joke is not missed. Women, peculiar, unobtainable, mystical, incomprehensible (yet still part of the species)… every move they make to gain an autonomy and explore the depths of their inner creature gets checked with a pop culture desire to separate, quarantine, and control.
The piece sets the tone for the entire show. The dark space is brooding and serious, and the viewer floats through the shadows to focus intently on the next art encounter. The collection of works speaks to an overarching theme of power from within; a timeless, dark and sacred entity that inspires and fuels these artists. While these sentiments are often a source of empowerment for/by women, in the hands of patriarchy they separate, divide, alienate, and strike fear. Each work contains this back and forth, sometimes a dialogue, sometimes a subversion. That conversation is further presented in an accompanying in-depth catalog to the exhibition, a zine-style expansion of the work at hand.
Carla-Handel’s sculptures are a candy-colored take on Urs Fischer’s mirror polished steel sculptures of everyday objects. Pink brown, and fleshy peach objects frolic across a bright yellow set of pedestals. The collection feels animated, as if they are socializing while on display. These sculptures are composed of bits of the female body tweaked into furniture-like forms, seemingly functional. Perhaps pondering the perspective of one who objectifies women, and what function they serve.
A large painting by Virginia Broersma contains a palette of dark blues, greens, and browns. A disfigured form emerges from glowing water into a moonlit forest. The faceless figure seems contorted but powerful. The scene is a metaphor if not a strategy: leaving behind the constrictions of purity for something more tenacious, more real.
A collection of broom sticks made by Jinal Sangoi cover a wall. Handmade and miniature, act as horizontal tally marks on the wall. While a single broom may be considered a novelty, the repetition leads one to ponder the ritual of making. Each broom is imbued with the thoughts of the artist as her hands carefully construct them.
Curving downward, a slab of bright pink foam is adorned with draped metallic polyester and chains. Any frivolity read into these colorful objects is removed by the scale. This piece is the bust made monumental, but instead of an idyllic portrayal it digs dipper into the artist, Jaklin Romine’s own life, specifically her daily lived experience from a spinal cord injury. Sucked in from the metallic sheen, the viewer will find an image of her hands with damaged fingernails and bruised torso. These are further injuries sustained from the nature of having no sensation (i.e. feeling no pain).
Johanna Braun’s collage of images, ultrasounds, Victorian photos climbs vertically like two puffs of smoke. The scrawled writing in red overtop indicates an expectation of harnessing the power of an occupied womb. It implicates that there is something to be feared, a monster within, a monster that can be released outward, unto the world.
Through the course of the exhibition one is confronted with solutions to defy power structures. Through the reclamation of myth, reconnection with nature, and acknowledgement of the inner beast oppression can be resisted.
Artists include: Johanna Braun, Virginia Broersma, Ursula Brookbank, Nancy Buchanan, Michelle Carla Handel, Carolina Hicks, Angie Jennings, Aubrey Ingmar Manson, Sarana Mehra, Heather Rasmussen, Jaklin Romine, Jinal Sangoi, Mariangeles Soto-Diaz, and Kandis Williams.