It seems true that the most gratifying signs of an exhibition’s success lies in its residual ability to inspire other programming. Nine years ago, Connie Butler mounted the first monumental institutional survey examining the relationship between art and feminism at MOCA with Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution. Flash forward to summer 2016 where concurrent shows continue to drive an ongoing dialogue— Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947 – 2016 at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Sigrid Sandström’s Other Places marking Anat Ebgi’s finale to a one-year commitment showcasing female artists, and WACKing the Piñata at ltd los angeles. Each iteration unique in sharing parallel commitments and emanating from Los Angeles— a city positioned as an important locus for early feminist discourse and supportive of new platforms blending art with initiative (Sexy Beast). As a hub where models like this can be born and sustained, it’s significant to note the recurring scope of supporters who continue to bring these initiatives to the forefront. Surely no coincidence that WACK! premiered during Paul Schimmel’s reign as MOCA’s Chief Curator…
Though the mentioned variants are not the only surveys to utilize feminist discourse as a springboard for articulating a narrative on how feminism continues to evolve and impact art-making on a global scale, they share a dedicated acknowledgment for provoking an all-inclusive conversation— one which will always need to be adapted by looking at the present: a space where social relations, personal identities, gender and institutional structures are essential topics to redress in a time particularly overloaded with political dialect; a heated climate where the personal seems all too wrapped up in being shaped by third-party agendas.
Adapting what Connie Butler cites as essential to her realization of WACK!, asserting “feminism constitutes an ideology of shifting criteria, one influenced and mediated by myriad other factors,” WACKing the Piñata cites influence of its predecessor and through the curatorial collaboration of Shirley Morales and Andrew Emard, serves to not only “celebrate a broader sense of feminism and the definition of what makes up a feminist practice,” but considers, by way of their partnership, how addressing these subjects is informed by their respectively different cultural, gender, and age backgrounds. A differentiation that “reflect[s] femininity and feminist discourse both inside and outside of gender,” and results in a conversational pairing successful in realizing a group show by way of a “contemporary prism.” This lens yields a selection of artists whose varied practices “re-envision a change in current social structures,” and who, in their collective presentation, strengthen and enhance an open vocabulary— universalizing their own personal experience through deconstructing the approaches inherent to their individualized practices.
A recurring focus among these ten artists— among whom Cédric Fargues is the only non female— is the male gaze. Entering the gallery, I am immediately drawn to Jennifer Chan’s pieces sewn within the platform of a blown-up mattress on the floor. Resting atop the headless corpses of male pecs proliferating Body Party and below the colorful commodified patterns of Double Happiness lies Boyfriend, a humorous video looping haphazardly on an iPad. Here, Chan reverses the male gaze towards young male bodies— displaying them as tableaux within the context of bedding and sourced-content predominantly from YouTube.
Floating on the horizon behind Chan’s pieces is a painted beach landscape by Anja Salonen. In An extreme form of togetherness, masks puncture a scenic postcard setting with androgynous figures donning bikinis and wind-blown hair— inverting the male gaze and exposing the layers of “masculinity and femininity that everyone exhibits while not being attached to a gendered body.” This de-familiarization of the familiar and reduction of “net aesthetic” into “non-narrative frames,” is more aptly viewed in Salonen’s cut-outs Big year for redheads and Make a beauty wish. The latter encapsulates a hand holding a mirror reflecting an augmented gaze staring back at us; reminding us how much identity and perception is shaped by social media and by the mirror subjected to our vantage point.
In contrast, Tschabalala Self’s animation My Black Ass, is unmoved nor effected by our gaze. The nude black female body loops into contoured embodiments of fantasy; similar to the nudes traced within the fictitious narratives of Mira Dancy’s “Herfume” perfume campaigns. Corporate aesthetics is adapted to reveal a less subtle accountability of ourselves in Debora Delmar Corp.’s twin pieces Marketable ideology (Emma Watson) and Marketable ideology (factory worker). Both digital prints mounted on mirror acrylic, the latter reflects an image of the viewer embedded within the worker’s T-shirt proclaiming “this is what a feminist looks like.” Recurring motifs in Delmar’s practice are elaborated as surfaces for inquiry here, as processes of exchange and consumer culture are appropriated into the ideal #artselfie frame. You and I and This is what a feminist looks like.
The fragmented self and its projected double is traversed in Rachel Mason’s sprawling installation of Starseeds, where iconic female figures who have influenced the artist’s trajectory are immortalized as porcelain dolls. Staring into the constellation of these mylar suited incarnations, I revert back to readings on the Lacanian gaze. Through Starseeds I access a threshold of significance— one undoubtably uniquely personal to the artist and yet accessible as these figures are [mostly] recognizable “stars” spanning historical significance— from Ana Mendieta, Nina Hagen, to Madonna.
Reveling in a “mirror stage,” I look around at bodies of work addressing and elaborating a dialogue that will forever require revisiting and accounting for images of the self constructed by, among, and outside of the other. Like our own self-image, feminism and the feminine are evolving, non-definable and uncontainable constructs. As Morales concludes in her conversation with Emard, “the piñata is a breakable container,” one appropriated here as a vehicle encouraging and containing possibly “outmoded ideas within a binary hierarchy.” The connotation of the piñata symbolic in its purpose to be dismantled and whose destruction is intended to be celebratory. Bearing this in mind as we continue to revisit and broaden the influence of feminism and the feminine in context with current visual art practices, WACKing the Piñata elicits a dialogue rooted in access and exchange, one that encourages former ideas and “their relevance to be examined, altered, enjoyed or tossed.”
All photos © ltd los angeles.
CURATE LA: August 11-14