Ambigous Bodies at the Goucher College Silber Art Gallery

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Ambiguous Bodies

The Silber Gallery

Goucher College Athenaeum

Heather Boaz Jeanne-Marie Burdette ZoĂŤ Charlton Elizabeth Crisman Joshua Crown Ellen Durkan Jason Horowitz

Ambiguous Bodies

Jackie Milad Jenny Mullins Lynn Palewicz April Wood

Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies.

— Frank Gillette Burgess

One distinctly human characteristic is empathy; our strong identification with our own bodies is what makes empathy possible. That is why we will wince when we see someone get hurt or feel a sense of sadness when we see someone cry. This is tied, of course, to our shared human experiences and our ability to imagine and to project. But it also has a great deal to do with the connection of our minds—our intellect and our emotions—to our bodies. We use our bodies not only to work and survive, to create and communicate, but also to feel. Everything we are, everything we experience, is manifest on our bodies—it is scrawled across our faces, written in our eyes, our lips, our hands, and reflected outwardly in our gestures, postures, and clothing. Our ability to empathize gives the human body, as a subject for art, an unparalleled capacity to profoundly affect the psyche. Historically, the human nude in art has been the subject of much controversy, and artists have used ambiguity as a tool in circumventing social ideals. At one point in time, as long as a work referenced biblical stories, any nudity portrayed was given moral sanction, even if the image or sculpture was contradictory to the implied religious undertones. Ethnocentricity and chance allowed artists to portray nudes from an “other” point of view. Portraying cultures, particularly the Orient, as sensual and exotic was publicly acceptable—and let the artists hold a mirror up to the hidden and illicit nature of Western culture that could not be commented on outright. Throughout history, the human body has been represented and interpreted in multiple and diverse ways. In Ambiguous Bodies, the artists continue that tradition, embracing ambiguity as a way to dismantle the classical or ideal notions of form and to include differences of beauty, race, sexuality, and gender—broadening the scope of how a human body can be portrayed.

Laura Amussen, curator

Heather Boaz

Heather Boaz’s work is both self-portraiture and disguise. Using video to explore the limitations of her body, she uncovers a new, uncanny self. The boundary between truth and fiction in relation to video documentation is pressed—each image is absolutely true, but due to close cropping of specific body parts, an impossible transformation occurs. The body becomes dislocated, disjointed. Mouths become eyes, hands become feet, the body is torn apart and put back together, and the roles of the body are reassigned to suggest a strange humor. The activities performed are both awkward and absurd and explore the relationship between artistic talent and the body.

Seeing is Believing, 2003 video still


Jeanne-Marie Burdette

Jeanne-Marie Burdette’s sculptures revolve around her fascination with fractals in nature. She wishes to represent the way plants grow and the patterns they form. Plants become a metaphor for the growth cycles constantly occurring within the body. For her two sculptural clothing pieces, Torchlily Dress and Broccoli Hat, she imagines the human body being consumed by the plants, two living organisms growing and changing in unison.

Torchlily Dress, 2007 mixed fibers dimensions variable


Zoë Charlton

Zoë Charlton’s long-term creative concerns situate constructions of Blackness within the tradition of figuration. The models, poses, and interaction of figures and objects in Charlton’s work all demonstrate the impact— whether indifferent, positive, or negative—of the historical portrayal of Black bodies in paintings and in film. In her drawings, installations, and videos, Charlton explores social constructions, cultural stereotypes, and how these representations affect the perceived identities of individuals. Her content may appear humorous, but it challenges what is considered moral and ethical. In Prime, the model rotates in three static poses that reference fashion, athletics, and auction-block imagery in which one might witness an oiled Black body. The work considers how gender, sexuality, and power redefine images of this female body.

Prime, 2009 video still courtesy of Janeann Bill


Elizabeth Crisman intentionally mutates the human form as a way to investigate and represent the transitioning, metamorphosing, evolving body. Crisman photographs male and female bodies in various static and kinetic positions and then tears and restructures the images, suturing the parts together with black cotton thread. These grotesque assemblages are bodies “in between.” They still retain something of their original state but they are not wholly natural. As modern science and technology continue to advance, we strive to fight nature and take control of our bodies, correcting them, repairing them. With each attempt to attain the idealized body, the more mutated and artificial we become.

Elizabeth Crisman

Karagomy, 2008 C-print and cotton thread 29” x 34”


Joshua Crown

Joshua Crown’s drawings are the product of a concise creativity—both the emotional source of his work and the result that appears on paper are spontaneous. He doesn’t analyze the process or expect an outcome. He conveys his momentary feelings and steps back to see what has emerged. Crown works from photographs of the human form, and his drawings are ambiguous in that their structure is incomplete, lacking details that might distinguish them.

Darling, Darling, 2009 ink on paper 14” x 19”


Ellen Durkan creates forged steel cages that encase nude female forms. The selfsupporting sculptures can stand alone as shells, housings, or casings, without a form inside, and they are carefully constructed to emphasize balance and symmetrical form. The surrounded body is soft and vulnerable and contrasts with the bulk of the steel structure. But, the body is not protected by her armor and is instead powerless, immobilized. Durkan also creates platform heel shoes that range in height from 12 to 24 inches. The shoes are made of wood, cast iron, and steel, making it impossible for the woman to move in them—they have no apparatus for walking, only standing. But while the ensemble restricts the body’s movement, it provides a physical barrier that allows viewers to only get so close—the woman is immobile, but still in control.

Ellen Durkan

Death Dress, 2008 steel, cast iron, and leather 91” x 72” x 63”


The large-scale photographs in Jason Horowitz’s Corpus series not only exhibit the fascinating visual terrain of the human body, but they also reveal our hidden or unspoken biases about beauty, ugliness, body-image, race, sexuality, aging, and the thresholds of exhibitionism. Though shot with the same “glamour lighting” used for fashion images, these photographs subvert that process to show what is real, rather than what is ideal. This way, Horowitz plays with the tension between attraction and repulsion. And, by providing an extraordinary amount of detail about the subject, both from a scientific/medical viewpoint as well as an intimate, personal, and sometimes sensuous approach, Horowitz allows us to look deeply at ourselves and others.

Jason Horowitz

Pepper, 2007 archival pigment print, 1 of 5, plus 2 AP 42” X 63” courtesy of curator’s office, Washington, DC


Jackie Milad

Through her drawings and performance works, Jackie Milad explores the complex interactions between strangers. In this particular series, Milad focuses on piropos, clever Spanish pick-up lines, often reserved for the street, that carry multiple meanings. Piropos are sometimes innocent (De que juguetería te escapaste mi muñeca? [My doll, from which toy store did you escape?]), but in the case of most, they are meant to shock the recipient with vulgarity. The portraits in Milad’s Piropos series represent both the recipient and the giver—the seducer and the seduced, the predator and the prey—of these classic come-on lines.

Piropos Series, 2009 pencil on paper 5” x 8”


Jenny Mullins

Jenny Mullins’s installation series explores power relationships, grotesque figuration, and the complex dynamic of voyeurism. She combines translucent fluorescent vellum, ink, and sequins, among other materials, to create layered drawing installations that are both whimsical and sinister. Conjuring Dr. Suess, Trixie Little, and Laylah Ali’s typology drawings, Mullins’s most recent work is a series of faceless burlesque figures dressed in hot pink and bondage, some of whom are brandishing knives, others who are being swallowed (or expelled) by ambiguously suited chimeras perched on kitchen chairs. Mullins uses truncated human figures encased in giant suits of yellow hair and leather belts to explore the blurriness between the roles of victim and villain.

Catapillar, 2008 mixed-media installation dimensions variable


Lynn Palewicz’s drawings describe a relationship between touch, tension, and surface. Each piece uses the body to distort a variety of images and marks drawn onto skin. Pinches, creases, and scratches marked onto its surface function as drawing elements alongside these penned images and marks. Photography does more than document the performance of these drawings—it disorients the viewer’s relationship with the body and represents the skin as a drawing surface. Lynn Palewicz

Knife, 2005 C-print 20” x 40”


April Wood’s work expresses the vulnerability and frailty of the human body and the inherent violence of consumption and digestion. Her materials are meant to be both attractive and repellant—she aims to highlight visceral beauty, the connection between interior and exterior, and the intersection of nourishment and arousal. In an age of fast food, TV dinners, and disposable silverware, Wood creates artwork that has a sense of history, a sensuality, and a relationship with the physical nature of the human experience. April Wood

Feeding the Hunger 3, 2007 steel, rubber, and gut 7” x 7” x 5”


Ambiguous Bodies Heather Boaz, Jeanne-Marie Burdette, Zoë Charlton, Elizabeth Crisman, Joshua Crown, Ellen Durkan, Jason Horowitz, Jackie Milad, Jenny Mullins, Lynn Palewicz, and April Wood

November 3 – December 13, 2009 Opening Reception

Thursday, November 19, 6-8 p.m.

The Silber Gallery

Goucher College Athenaeum Directions

Baltimore Beltway, I-695, to exit 27A. Make first left onto campus. Gallery Hours

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday. 410.337.6477 The Silber Gallery is free and open to the public. The Silber Gallery program is funded with the assistance of grants from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the NEA, and the Baltimore County Commission on the Arts and Sciences.

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