Monday, February 11, 2013
Susan/Elizabeth at Goss-Michael challenges everything you know about feminine relationships
One exhibition is a video of the artist eating her mother’s cremated remains -- a sickening yet illuminating experience.
DALLAS When it comes to Dallas arts, the phrase “world class” has been bandied about to the point of parody. And while the phrase itself might an eye roll or two, it does mean we're seeing more international art imported here. The Goss-Michael Foundation has served as home-base for outstanding British art, infusing the city with a global perspective that is otherwise underserved outside of the Dallas Museum of Art.
However, stepping up Dallas’ artistic game is not just about globalizing the city’s exhibitions; the other side of that coin involves bolstering emerging local artists and fertilizing the organic flavor developing outside Establishment arts venues. Recognizing this, Goss-Michael implemented +++ New Practices, an initiative to expose the foundation's notably sophisticated audience to Dallas’ young and progressive local artists. Juxtaposed with the Goss-Michael Foundation's more traditional – and exquisite – exhibition Exposed by noted British pop star Bryan Adams, +++New Practices’ inaugural exhibition, Susan/Elizabeth, opened on February 8, featuring eight artists, a mixture of Dallas-based, national, and international talent. It was curated by Dallas’ own feminist collective, (wo)manorial, in conjunction with Goss-Michael Foundation Exhibitions Manager Kevin Ruben Jacobs.
Many will recognize Jacobs as owner and operator of Oliver Francis Gallery, a labor-of-love gallery project that received significant buzz over the last year for pushing envelopes and buttons. While Jacobs’ Oliver Francis Gallery thrives, he has continued to develop his eye and acumen, working full-time for Goss-Michael. (wo)manorial, a collective of locally based or connected female artists, developed over the summer as a reaction to the lack of woman artists, particularly those working with new technology, in local exhibitions.
Susan/Elizabeth explores femininity through a variety of relationships such as mother/daughter and best friend/frenemy. It concerns “relationships of connection, involvement, association” as well as those of “ignorance, strangeness, and unfamiliarity.”
A couple of the artists’ names will immediately ring bells: Michelle Rawlings, daughter of Mayor Mike Rawlings, presents oil paintings of her mother; and DMA award winner Kasumi Chow offers another photograph that is as disturbing in content as it is beautiful in its clarity and unusual color. Tori Whitehead’s “Francesca’s Daze (Homage to Francesca Woodman)” stands out in its haunting voyeurism; a viewer might feel compelled to look away but simply cannot.
While each piece pulls its weight in Susan/Elizabeth, one does particularly stand out, both because of its placement – as a video, it logistically required a room of its own – and because of its gnawing content. Puerto Rican artist Marisol Plard Narvaez’s 2008 video, ahthropofagia, relentlessly pushes itself under a viewer’s skin, and the reaction is almost universally visceral.
Narvaez videoed herself eating her mother’s cremated remains as an exploration of their disjointed relationship and the artist’s feelings of abandonment and alienation from her strong and often absent mother.
But rather than skating by on mere shock value, anthropofagia’s greatest strength is that it propels the viewer toward new understandings through self-education. While the video itself is visual, containing no exposition or explanation, the accompanying interview reveals just enough of the artist’s mindset and purpose to pique a viewer’s curiosity. It becomes more than a disturbing physical act by becoming an intellectual one.
As the artist discusses her various studies – she found herself particularly fascinated by the anthropological aspects of Brazilian cannibalism, in addition to Freudian taboo – the viewer is intrigued and confused. The video becomes more than a piece of unsettling performance art, as its viewer reads and begins to piece together the artist’s purpose. While not revealing too much or offering too heavy a hand, Narvaez places tools in her viewers’ hands and stokes a natural, and seemingly universal, curiosity toward the primitively grotesque. While most of Susan/Elizabeth is fascinating and beautiful, anthropofagia is sickening, agitating, illuminating, and upsetting. It stays with you, and it most effectively drives home the narrative that (wo)manorial intends with its look into the complexity and disorder of feminine relationships.
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