Friday, April 15, 2011

Re-Nude at Eye Level Art

Wednesday night I forked over $20 to see Re-Nude at Eye Level Art, and I was happy to do it: the show benefited Planned Parenthood, Garage Cuban Band played, and there was a wide range of art up in the warehouse-gallery. I'm kicking myself for not getting involved this year, being passionate about both figure drawing and supporting Planned Parenthood, so I hope they repeat the fundraiser a third time next year. And, as organizer Leila Davenport Ross explains,
"I felt the creative community (artists, musicians, etc.) is most often the most underinsured, if insured at all, due to the outrageous costs of health care and basic health insurance coverage," she says. "Oftentimes, artists cannot afford it and that is why exposing them to this local resource (the Planned Parenthood Health Center) would be a beneficial thing for them, as well as their supporters, fans, friends -- a nice marriage, if you will."
Charleston can be a rather conservative place, as evidenced by Charleston City Paper's ridiculous article which belies an ironically naked concern about the public being exposed to OMGpenises! As artist Timothy Pakron explains,
"Charleston is just not the place to risk opportunities on gallery wall spaces with experimental, hard to digest, uncomfortable nudity, or any art for that matter."
Otherwise insightful quotes from artists Everett White and Lynne Hamontree are couched in the OMGpenisfear of the article, but I'll admit that I'm not really annoyed by the reporting. After all, being a little scandalized is fun.
I particularly enjoyed their quote about the impressively articulate Lisa Schimko:
"Sleep Owl," which features an owl watching over a sleeping woman, came about in a stream-of-consciousness way. "I start with colors and maybe a shape, and just let my mind wander without trying to control it too much. When I create work in this method, it's interesting for me and hopefully the viewer," Shimko says. "It's like a dream and can be personal to whoever is looking at it. There is no right or wrong perspective." Using her imagination instead of photographs or models to paint the human form, she says, "The body is a vehicle, as are the birds and other animals that I use in my work to convey emotion and ideas."
After attending I'd love to hear what some other artists have to say, whose work I'd never seen before but loved. And even though Pakron was right, the art didn't make me uncomfortable, there was experimentation and challenge all around. There was a fun video piece that I really didn't get but I enjoyed, by Liz Vaughan and entitled, "You Are What You Eat." The camera panned out very, very slowly to reveal a room of naked young men with blindfolds in lawn chairs and on podiums in a studio or apartment with clicking noises, and finally a young woman, clothed but also blindfolded, is revealed ripping meat off a rotisserie chicken and eating it like a zombie. The clicking noises are her chewing and smacking.

What does it all MEAN??? That she's a chicken? That what we eat is important but we aren't mindful of it (i.e. blindfolded)? The link between sexuality, objectification, the body as sculpture, and food may be a common experience for people throughout history and I appreciated the insightful juxtaposition between the men, who seemed to reference classical Greek statues, and the contemporary apartment and woman in the foreground. What is it about experimental video and eating, anyway? They seem to go together like photography and bicycles.
The chicken suggests a few things. It's barbaric, like a classic Viking or medieval cartoon of a bearded guy with an over-sized drumstick clenched in his greasy fist. As a vegan it also suggests environmental irresponsibility and cruelty, but that may not be a very common connotation. There's "chickenhead," slang for girls who are boy-crazy. This might be fitting for a woman in a room of naked men. Also, chicken is meat, which suggests flesh and the human body. The bodies are all displayed like hunks of meat, and there she is eating meat: "you are what you eat."
Another thing I appreciated was that although Vaughan presented a video it is really either a photograph or sculptural panorama that slowly unfolds for the viewer. In painting, composition is used to control where the viewer's gaze falls first and to lead the eye around the canvas. She seems to employ the same technique of controlling the viewer's gaze using video but it is more forceful and the anticipation is higher because the viewer has NO control. On average, gallery-goers give art objects (paintings, photos, etc) only eight seconds of consideration before moving on, and these objects are losing even that meager attention to flashier media like video and sound installations. Vaughan has subverted this and used video to force the viewer to really take the time to ruminate on what they're seeing. Being forced to consume something mindfully that would usually be consumed mindlessly is an interesting parallel to the food that is being consumed mindlessly and in the video and also to society's mindless consumption of nudity.
Having been forced to think about the viewer's experience through time and new media, I did a little research on Vaughan. Turns out she co-founded the Time-Based Media Festival. Well, then.
There were so many fun and interesting pieces that I'll have to continue this post in a short series. Stay tuned.

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