Hysteria at MOAH
Lancaster Museum of Art and History
Through September 5th
Written by Genie Davis
The Museum of Art and History in Lancaster has done it again, with another honestly awe-filled exhibition by Cudra Clover which fills most of the space. There are several other smaller installations showing as well, including a richly rewarding installation of vivid, highly detailed textile-based artworks from Leonard D. Greco, and an enormous, socially significant art quilt, We Are Home, assembled by artist Shelley Heffler, that benefits and supports the unhoused with sales of individual squares. The work was made with 12×12 quilt blocks from local residents. David Koeth’s stunning Citrus Series, globe-like works created from citrus peels are also quite dazzling, miniature unmapped worlds.
But the focus of this review is, as it must be, on the multiple works of Cudra Clover in her massive and varied exhibition, Hysteria.
The title is taken from the artist’s room installation, also titled Hysteria, and was initially inspired by both global and then personal events “First, ‘the world going crazy’ and then when I was diagnosed with fibroids and bleeding nonstop, it became inspired by ‘the state of hysteria’ which used to be defined as any reason a woman goes crazy caused by her womb.” She notes “At one time, they used to believe the uterus would disengage and move around in the body making a woman go mad.”
She loves doing large installation work which she describes as “Things people can go into, experience, interact, and create more from.” The work at MOAH was shaped in her studio “in an old cannery at the edge of the jungle on Maui. This is where I paint my silks and created most of the Hysteria room.” She’s created a variety of such immersive projects in the past, including a “life-sized counter-rotating laser Merkaba that a person can stand inside of while it’s spinning in opposite directions,” an affect in changing geometry which “supposedly triggers one to reach enlightenment.”
Hysteria is absolutely enlightening in its own way, or perhaps electrifying is a better word. Vibrant, lush, and red, red, red, it intersects interactive elements with bright streaks of neon, rich fabric, and fantastic, over-the-top color and patterns, baroque furniture, and odd antiques. It is a room filled with delights and edgy, dark wonder.
Clover says, “I had already made many of the biomorphic abstract silks [in MOAH’s first floor Gallery 1] but I wanted the rooms to be related, so what I did was photograph them, digitize, manipulate and animate them to make the upholstery, carpet, wallpaper, touch table, clothing for the performance, and as video for the two screens in the installation.”
Also located on the second floor, in the museum’s South Gallery, is Clover’s site-specific interactive video installation, Hysterical Women, which serves as an exceptional partner to the installation room. Graceful and hypnotic, the video work allows viewers to push 16 different buttons which then activates large scale, multi-color images of women in what Clover terms “different states of hysteria. I videoed women jumping on trampolines [at a trampoline park], rolling, writhing, twisting and turning. They were then edited to make them travel across the 50-foot-long room and around the side walls.”
Audio tracks accompanying the figures follows each character in “moaning, laughing, going crazy, senior-moment-babbling, orgasming. Although they are naked, they have prosthetics to cover their nipples, mouths, vaginas and buttocks to make them more helpless, voiceless, Barbie-like: unreal in their realness. They are not unlike using women in advertising, exposed and repressed at the same time.” One voice speaks in Russian about an experience the artist had trying to get a joint credit card activated without her husband’s “permission,” another is of herself reading “The Medusa Process,” a poem by Reiser Perkins, backwards. “It’s meant to turn things around, sort of like a spell of undoing this inequality.”
Multiple visits to the space create experiences that differ each time; at first-look the women seemed like graceful dancers; it was only on repeated viewing that the viewer realizes a sense of frenzy or entrapment in the motions. It is a wonderfully deceptive and rewarding reveal.
The main downstairs gallery is filled by Clover’s Biomorphic Abstraction, which refers both to her love of the biomorphic/unseen and the abstract. The series references both science and art in a delicate visual process that is both meditative and a warning call of sorts. Using a combination of Japanese fabric dye technique and aspects of Indonesian wax-resist dyeing, as well as French Serti silk painting techniques, she examines the natural world unseen beneath our own on a micro level. The visual design is both floral and fragile; but there is a darker edge to the work despite its beauty and emphasis on technique, both of which draw Clover to this body of work.
“Sometimes I just want art to be beautiful – I love dark, urban, gritty and spooky art – but then there’s nature, and for me especially microscopic nature inspires me. Even more than the women’s rights issues in Hysteria – I am an activist for nature, every little tiny cell, creature, even virus or bacteria is here for a reason, it all fits together – we humans too often think of ourselves as separate and that’s what’s destroying the planet. So, I play god in my head – I view my stretched silk as a petri dish and I manipulate biomorphic elements, imagining I’m giving power and strengthening cells that need it, healing, changing, doing artistic CRISPR and epigenetics.” She adds, “But I have to admit that lately, I’m more on the side of the animals and flora – we humans are really the virus – we need to slow it down or we are going to destroy the planet…I want people, even if it’s subconsciously – to respect nature and recalibrate themselves back into the rhythms of the natural world. We are one organism, and none are better, more important or higher than the others.”
While she says she did not start out to be an activist artist, Clover started “asking questions” which led to her own quest to inspire, expose, motivate – and question the damage, including that caused by conventional Western medicine. As thought-provoking, activating, and passionate as the work is, Clover is also brilliantly successful at what she terms her main goal in her artwork. “I want people to feel good, be inspired, have conversation and play when they interact with my installations.” And that is also how most learning takes place – maybe without even realizing it.
Learn, enjoy, and experience Clover’s work and the other smaller individual exhibitions at MOAH through September 5th. MOAH is located at 665 Lancaster Blvd. in Lancaster. Make the drive.