In: Female Artists

Mimi Plumb | The Golden City, 1984 – 2020
February 2, 2023

Mimi Plumb | The Golden City, 1984 – 2020

So this is where the Renaissance has led to | And we will be the only ones to know
So take a drive and breathe the air of ashes | That is, if you need a place to go
If you have to beg or steal or borrow | Welcome to Los Angeles, City of Tomorrow
(Phil Ochs, The World Began In Eden And Ended In Los Angeles)

When I first encountered Plumb’s images, that song from the late Phil Ochs came to mind: it seems upbeat and pleasant but is, in fact, nuanced with a despair that is subtle but builds (and I will admit my interpretation may be coloured by his suicide. But the rendition of that song I am familiar with is a live version, and Ochs talks at the beginning of his fascination with Los Angeles “which intrigues me like a sensual morgue.” Plumb’s works have a certain sterility, to them, as well, that intersects with this consideration).

As with Plumb’s scenes, there’s more at play than the obvious. Considering that California exists in imaginations just as vividly – if not always accurately – as any seminal ‘place’ like ‘Siberia’, Plumb’s photographs invite us to construct narratives around them, that build, converge or perhaps complete what she intends, with her own personal stories….

I will admit that when looking at Mimi Plumb’s photography, that The Golden City often blended with another body of work of hers, titled The White Sky. I doubt that the artist would be offended by that, as the elements of memory, nostalgia and social realism suffuse her practice, and are themes that are present in her artwork still. Although her narrative is a personal one, it also has elements that are more universal, when considering larger tropes that her work touches upon.

The Golden City [is] a series of images that frames subjects against the sprawling backdrop of San Francisco. Similar to Plumb’s other bodies of work, The Golden City is an ode to an earlier America—a rich and playful elaboration on the human condition, and its tendencies towards hedonism and spectacle. To say that this work largely references the exploitation of the natural world on account of humans would be reductive. While sculptural detritus and empty construction sites set the groundwork for this series, Plumb flips dramatic irony on its head by capturing subjects enthralled by events transpiring just beyond the frame. We are not in on the comings and goings within this world, but are sucked in nonetheless; left only with a sense of wonder at what could be bringing about such awe.” (from Document, with an engaging conversation with Plumb you can read as well)

Much more of Plumb’s work – from this series and a number of others – can be seen here. If you’d like to listen to her talk about her work, the Museum of Contemporary Photography has a video you can enjoy here.

Plumb published a book of selected images from this body of work with Stanley/Barker books in 2022.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Kelly Tapìa – Chuning | More Than Once, 2022
January 20, 2023

Kelly Tapìa-Chuning | More Than Once, 2022
needle felted Romney wool on foam board insulation, 27.50 x 49 x 4 inches

I could pretend I’m sorry for saying this (but I’m not, in the least), but 2023 has been off to an interesting start with the deaths of Joseph Ratzinger and Gerald Pell. Perhaps you think that’s ghoulish, but when considering the work of my latest Curator’s Pick – Kelly Chuning – I remembered that not just had both of those men aided and abetted abusers of children, but their lives and actions were drenched in misogyny. Their hatred of women who didn’t fit their own ignorance is one of the many rank stenches that they’ll leave behind, akin – if not worse – than the smell of a corpse. 

If that seems ‘disrespectful’, let us consider the artwork by Tapìa – Chuning that spurred these thoughts, which were in an exhibition titled What is Respect? that was at Red Arrow Gallery in 2022. 

What is Respect? takes place two months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, guaranteeing a women’s right to an abortion and 5 days before abortion is completely illegal in the state of Tennessee. With this body of work, I am giving the responsibility to the viewer to decide what the term ‘respect’ implies, given the current political climate; and asking the audience to consider how we can utilize language as a tool for change going forward.

Growing up in a fiercely religious household, the people of Tennessee weighed heavy on my mind as I heard the news of the state’s trigger law (‘The Human Life Protection Act’) banning abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest. As a victim of sexual assault, the implications of this law influenced me to act immediately.” (from here)

It is necessary to remember that the voices on the Supreme Court of the United States that spewed the Dobbs decision are predominantly religious – with ‘precedent’ being ‘cited’ by one, the rabid catholic Alito, regurgitating the biliousness of a witchfinder from several centuries ago. If my writing seems caustic – or ‘disrespectful’ – it is less so than those that seek to dehumanize people like Tapìa – Chuning…..

Kelly Chuning is an interdisciplinary biracial Latinx artist currently based in northwest Montana. She received her BFA in Studio Arts from Southern Utah University and will be attending Cranbrook Academy of Art fall 2022 as a Gilbert Fellow. Chuning’s work explores rhetoric, imagery, and media as a tool of constructing various modes of female identity.

Her IG is @kelly_chuning/
Kelly Tapìa – Chuning’s site is here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Romina Ressia | Woman with a Water Pistol, 2014
January 6, 2023

Romina Ressia | Woman with a Water Pistol, 2014

Most of the writing around Ressia’s photographs talks about absurdity and anachronism: perhaps that’s because she appropriates form and redefines meaning in a manner that challenges art historical tropes around gender and relevance. Meticulously executed, her ‘portraits’ have a gravitas on the one hand, but then this is broken by elements that can’t help but amuse (though her people never crack a smile, with eye contact that might wilt any irreverence from the viewer).

There is a hint of dourness to the woman who is the player in this series, and many others, having a heavy handed seriousness that is then fractured by the various objects her subjects are brandishing that seem silly and puerile.

Bluntly, Messia’s Woman with a Water Pistol looks like she’s had just about enough of you, young man, and unless you want to be sprayed with water – disciplined like an unruly, disobedient cat – you’d best behave. You shan’t be told again.

A bit flippant perhaps. But consider the [still, uninterrupted] proliferated misogyny in Western art history [or contemporary art] of women as object, or demure commodity, or the validation / apologia of rape as seen with Europa or the Sabine women or ‘Susannah and the Elders’ (and so, so many others). Consider that in (recently done) 2022 we’ve seen groups of women around the world make it clear that they have had *quite* enough and my interpretation is not without consideration….

This image is part of a larger series titled How would have been Childhood? with the same figure in them all, her unimpressed body language acting as a unifying aspect of the artworks. Birthday hats, costumes, balloons – nothing seems to inspire joy, here. When I first encountered this series online, a birthday party that no one was enjoying – if anyone even came, besides the ‘star’ of the series – can be forgiven for being an initial impression….

“Romina’s art cleverly initiates dialogue on important contemporary social issues through the striking use of anachronistic tropes juxtaposed with mundane and banal elements of modernity. Indeed, the influence of classical artists like Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Velazquez is instantly recognizable in the palettes, textures, ambiance and scenes captured in Romina Ressia’s works, bequeathing them an air of familiarity which only serves to highlight the contradictory and sometimes confrontational presence of objects of modernity such as cotton candy, bubble gum, microwave popcorn and Coca Cola.

The theatrical absurdity in her pictorial compositions, which combine stylistic elements of Renaissance paintings and Pop art, and the dissonance of the stark contradictions captured therein have a surprising clarity, making for an honest critique through visual dialogue of received notions of modernity. In this sense, Romina succeeds in achieving her artistic intent which is not to recreate or refer to the past but to establish a frame within which to interrogate the perceived evolution and progress of society especially in respect to the role and identity of women.” (from here)

If you’re doltish enough to suggest ‘she’d look better if she smiled’, don’t be surprised if you get soaked – deservingly.

More of Romina Ressia’s evocative – if a bit disquieting – work can be seen here.
Her Instagram is @rominaressia

~ Bart Gazzola

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Elena Chernyshova | Days of Night / Nights of Day, 2012-2013
December 8, 2022

Elena Chernyshova | Days of Night / Nights of Day, 2012-2013

‘I was with my people then, there, where my people, unfortunately, were.’
(Anna Akhmatova, Requiem, 1935 – 1961, writing of her times in the soviet gulag)

When I lived in Saskatoon, an acquaintance who’d spent time in Eastern Europe once commented that that city in winter was like Siberia, but without the cachet of being that place (which exists as much in our imaginations as it does in reality, one might say – as a ‘great part of the imagination of the world is attached to that site’), nor with architecture that was anything but a failed brutalism (this was during a period with the ‘economic boom’ in Saskatoon where a number of heritage buildings were lost and the banal taupe of others rose like mottled angular tumours….)

Elena Chernyshova’s work is aesthetically stunning: not just for the evocative quality of the images, but also for the scenes they present to us, that seem to blend exotica and danger, a chronicle of sites that remind us of the irrelevance of humanity in the face of nature.
But her notes and comments bring the human element back, as this is not just a ‘pretty’ image, but a site of – of course – contested narratives, that looks back to the history of the USSR and some of the ideas of industrialization and ‘progress’ that have human costs.

Chernyshova’s own words are a powerful adjunct to her lens: “Days of Night / Nights of Day is about the daily life of the inhabitants of Norilsk. Norilsk is a mining city, with a population of more than 170,000. It is the northernmost city (100,000+ people) in the world. The average temperature is -10° C and reaches lows of -55° C in the winter. For two months of the year, the city is plunged into polar night when there are zero hours of sunlight.

The entire city, its mines and its metallurgical factories were constructed by prisoners of the nearby gulag, Norillag, in the 1920s and 30s. 60% of the present population is involved with the city’s industrial processes: mining, smelting, metallurgy and so on. The city sits on the world’s largest deposit of nickel-copper-palladium. Nearly half of the world’s palladium is mined in Norilsk. Accordingly, Norilsk is the 7th most polluted city in the world.

This documentary project aims to investigate human adaptation to extreme climate, environmental disaster and isolation. The living conditions of the people of Norilsk are unique, making them an incomparable subject for such a study.”

Chernyshova offers the following about the image of monumental architecture (with a blue suffusing light): The construction plan of Norilsk was established in 1940, by architects imprisoned in the nearby Gulag. The idea was to create an ideal city. The most “ancient” buildings are constructed in the Stalinist style. The next step of construction happened in the 60s, when the prevailing method in the USSR was to use pre-built panels.

Her other writings also allude to the disputed, if not adversarial, stories that meet and intersect in Days of Night / Nights of Day. The scene with the car and hazy clouds the colour of sulfur has the following notation: In the summer, there is a period when the sun doesn’t go under the horizon. This continues from the end of May till the end of July. It is accompanied by good weather and pleasant temperatures. Around 3 am, while the city sleeps, it is still illuminated by the sun. The city seems like a ghost town, emptied of its inhabitants. 

One of the images I’ve included from Chernyshova’s series is unlike the others: and its difference helps to offer insight into the whole. Again, Chernyshova’s voice must be borrowed: Anna Vasilievna Bigus, 88, [who] spent ten years of her youth in the Gulag. At age 19, she was separated from her family and sent into the Arctic Circle. “The only joy we could have in Gulag was singing. We sang a lot. And this gave us the strength to survive…” Her daughter became a music teacher and her grandchildren sing in opera.

The complete series (produced with the support of The Jean-Luc Lagardère Foundation) can be seen here and a feature from LensCulture (where Chernyshova offers some words about many of the images I’ve shared here, that offer more nuance and depth to her vision) can be enjoyed here.

Elena Chernyshova’s site
@elena.chernyshova.photography

~ Bart Gazzola

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Haruko Maeda | Self – Portrait with my cat and my grandmother in a glass, 2020
December 2, 2022

Haruko Maeda | Self – Portrait with my cat and my grandmother in a glass, 2020

Several years ago, when I was going through the library of a recently deceased friend  – at the invitation of his daughter – I noticed in his (former) apartment that she had a velvety bag, looking lustrous and fancy. I asked if this was some expensive alcohol, to mark her father’s passing. She told me it was her father’s ashes. When I asked if they’d be scattered in the city we were in, as he’d lived there for some time, contributing to the critical writing community and being a significant voice around visual culture and especially photography, or back in his home province in the Maritimes, she tersely commented she had not decided yet whether they’d be flushed down the toilet or mixed in with the cat litter.

When my own father passed several years ago, not long before COVID, the arrangements around his inurnment were put on hold: his ashes sat on a shelf in the living room of what is now my mother’s house for some time, only recently being put underground this past summer. Frankly, having ‘him’ in the same room where he spent most of the final years of his life seemed to comfort my mother: he was more agreeable than he’d been in decades, ahem.
No, I am not smiling – my face is as stoic and unreadable as Maeda’s, in her painting.

Those are both dark places to begin in considering Haruko Maeda’s painting Self – Portrait with my cat and my grandmother in a glass: but the funerary rites and rituals of family are nothing if not contested narratives that bring feelings to the surface, re opening old wounds and making new ones. Leave the dead to bury the dead, they (Matthew and Luke, to be specific, but that may just be hyperbole) say, but they never truly ‘leave’ us….

Maeda looks unperturbed in this scene: her cat seems relaxed, and even the fly that perches upon her arm that holds the ashes of her grandmother is subtle.

“Japanese Haruko Maeda lives and works in Austria since 2005. In her art she combines the Shintoistic traditions of her homeland with the Roman Catholic faith, deeply rooted in Austrian culture and history. This allows her to position herself between East and West. Maeda lets these double belongings function as a kind of filter through which she can process her own memories and experiences. The purpose is to raise universal questions about existence, life and death.” (from here)

In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, the final story arc – The Wake – offers several vignettes as concluding narratives about death, loss and mourning. One of these involves a man cast into exile, after the death of his son, who gets lost in a desert that his guides will not name, as to do so is to invite disaster. Master Li finds a tiny kitten as a companion, a ward, perhaps, against the ghosts of the dead he encounters in the ashy, shifting sands. At some point he encounters the shade of his son, and this is their conversation:

“Father? I am your son. That is only a kitten. Why do you abandon me to chase after it?”
“When you were alive, you were all my joy. Now you are dead. I see you only in my dreams. And when I awake my pillow is wet with tears. The kitten is living, and it needs my help.”

There is a solemnity to Maeda’s work, but also just a touch of irreverence.

More of Haruko Maeda’s work can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Eleanor Antin | 100 Boots, 1971-73
October 28, 2022

Eleanor Antin | 100 Boots, 1971-73 

“For month after month after month, her five-score empty rubber boots had to be carted across the country, set up in various evocative spots, and then photographed before someone could come along and chase Antin away…at the time, the empty boots would have had immediate resonance as a reference to the Vietnam War, and to the boot-wearers who would never come home.” (Blake Gopnik)

Eleanor Antin is an artist who has not, in my opinion, received the credit she merits for her performative installations and photographs that have a cinematic quality. At the risk of being flippant, if Gopnik, Camille Paglia and I myself all agree as to her importance, we surely can’t be wrong. Antin has been making work since the 1960s, and her art often intersects with politics in both overt and covert ways. 

From Paglia’s Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars: ‘As a work of Conceptual art, 100 Boots consisted of temporary on-site sculptural installations documented by photographs (taken by Philip Steinmetz), which were sent uninvited to a distant, dispersed audience. The formal, squadron-like patterns assumed by the boots parody the frigid geometries then being made by male Minimalist sculptors. In their outdoor placement, the boots evoke traditional landscape painting as well as the new genre of land art, which was just emerging from Minimalism. Antin strategically varied the look of the cards so that “seductively beautiful” images were not the rule. Most of them have a bleak desolation reminiscent of existential European art films. Indeed, Antin saw the work as “a movie composed of still photos”.’

Over her career, Antin ‘has utilized a staggering range of styles, media, and materials, and her work has combined theater, dance, literature, drawing, painting, sculpture, crafts, photography, video, and architecture. “All artworks are conceptual machines,” she said. And again: “All art exists in the mind.” Antin deeply influenced the emergence of both performance art and Conceptual photography.’

For myself, these images are about the insidious nature of loss, especially as it pertains to those who have died during the pandemic. Empty boots that take on the nature of ghosts that appear in any place at any time, a simple – almost banal, like a rubber boot – fact of absence that hits you like a hammer to the chest and requires you to sit down to consider it….

Eleanor Antin was a previously featured Artist You Need To Know, in AIH Studios’ continuing series. That can be enjoyed here.

More works from this series can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Julianna D’Intino’s Connecting Rods | Mahtay Cafe | St. Catharines
October 26, 2022

Julianna D’Intino’s Connecting Rods: A Survey of Industry in the Niagara Region, 2015 – 2022 is currently on display at Mahtay Café & Lounge in their main space.

The exhibition has been on display for two weeks and will be on display for two more, into the month of November.

This is the first in a series of curated exhibitions of Niagara based artists, that I’ve put together to show in the downtown of St. Catharines.

Connecting Rods, to cite the words of the artist, “is but one personal case study in the myriad of lost industry of the Niagara Region.”

Much more about this body of work can be seen here: https://juliannadintino.com/Connecting-Rods

I also offered some thoughts about this fine body of work for curated., which can be read here: https://curatednow.ca/julianna-dintino-connecting-rods-a-survey-of-industry-in-the-niagara-region-2015-2022/

This exhibition is exceptionally relevant right now, with the recent election where the fate of the old GM site was a topic of concern, and the legacy of that time – both in terms of the physical site but also the people who worked there, and the larger social and economic echoes – still resonates.

Come to Mahtay and experience Connecting Rods in person: it is as much history as it is art.

~Bart Gazzola

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Asya Kozina | Baroque Paper Wigs, 2016
October 14, 2022

Asya Kozina | Baroque Paper Wigs, 2016

Historical wigs always fascinated me, especially the Baroque era. This is art for art’s sake aesthetics for aesthetics, no practical sense. But they are beautiful. I made a series of wigs. Paper helps to highlight in this case the main form and not be obsessed [with] unnecessary details.

There is something both decadent and timeless about Kozina’s work. The idea of a peformative lens comes into play – as these intricate, hand made (with no digital tools) ‘wigs’ only attain their ultimate beauty when worn by one of Kozina’s models, and the rest of the team comes together (meshing together, perhaps, like the paper in the artist’s constructions) to produce a moment that has as much to do with art historical tropes, as seen in the paintings of  Jacques Louis David or Caravaggio, as it does with contemporary couture and fashion. The artifice of the apple, the pale face perfectly dotted with subtle spots of rouge, the winsome look eschewing eye contact in one scene and the feigned precociousness of the model looking directly at us in another all suggest this might be a Jean-Honoré Fragonard (more late Baroque, with a touch of the playfulness of Rococo) except for the stark palette, only broken by the red of the apple.

I think of Fragonard as the old Russian Imperial court often looked to France for its ideal, and there’s a sentiment of the elaborate, exotic Ancien Régime to Kozina’s many works: another act of imitation from an artifice of pretension that was, of course, all about social class and cultural capital.

But Kozina does more than just mimic: several bodies of work – such as the more ballistic Baroque Punk or more erotic Eve – employ the history of fashion as a starting point for contemporary considerations and conversations.

More of her work can be seen on IG at @asya_kozina or at her site.

The photographer for this work is Anastasia Andreeva, with assistance from Dina Kharitonova. The makeup artists are Marina Sysolyatina and Svetlana Dedushkina.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Joyce Crago | City Hall Art Gallery | Ottawa
October 6, 2022

“Not long after she’d lost her sister Hazel, I ran into Joyce, and we decided to go for lunch. We settled ourselves on stylish chairs, surrounded by hushed chitchat. At mention of Hazel, Joyce crumpled, as though the loss was physically crushing in on her. In that room of mannerly interaction, tears poured freely down her face.

Joyce Crago transmuted her uncontrollable private grief into an act of profound communication. She created this work without allowing any of the power and shock of that raw and overwhelming pain to be lost in the beauty of these pieces. They don’t only express that pain, they articulate it. In viewing, we share in it, and understand.

Crago is a master of composition, and her specialty is arranging what’s been discarded in the wake of major events. Salvaged, staged, and photographed, spent objects become in her hands visually gratifying forms, and the significance with which they are imbued is revealed, laid bare.”

– Exhibition booklet excerpt by Ruth Dick

Joyce Crago is a multi-media Canadian artist with a background in textiles and law. Her creative pursuits are initialized by a compulsion to ask questions about subjects such as death, aging, mortality, and cultural trauma. She attempts to bring order to these subjects under circumstances that are not propitious.

She was the recipient of the 2021 Project X, Photography Award. In 2020, her work appeared in a featured exhibition at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival and won the Grand Prize at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery’s RMG Fridays: Focused.

Her works were recently exhibited at the Ottawa Art Gallery and have also been shown nationally and internationally. They are held in the City of Ottawa Art Collection as well as many private collections.

Joyce Crago gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council.

~ Mark Walton

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Hayv Kahraman | Migrant 3, 2009
September 29, 2022

Hayv Kahraman | Migrant 3, 2009
Oil on panel 70 x 45 in. (177.8 x 114.3 cm.)

Hayv Kahraman was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1981 but now lives and works in Los Angeles. She describes her work as being “a vocabulary of narrative, memory and dynamics of non-fixity found in diasporic cultures are the essence of her visual language and the product of her experience as an Iraqi refugee / come émigré. The body as object and subject have a central role in her painting practice as she compositely embodies the artist herself and a collective.”

This work was made around the same time as her series Marionettes which “explores this subject of female oppression with particular reference to war in the Middle East and specifically in her home land of Iraq. At the same time, she turns her attention to female subjugation found in the everyday, in a series of work focused on women and domestic life. Enslavement is depicted through strings controlling the movement of the women; they drift through the landscapes seemingly oblivious to, or accepting of, their fate.” (from a review in Contemporary Practices, 2010)

This image, as I was engaged in my frequent research about contemporary artists, caught my eye not just for its evocative if disturbing scene (that might be an act of self censorship, or a visual metaphor for a prohibition to speak or be heard), but also with what’s happening in Iran, right now. Feminism – that idea, affronting to so many, that people are all equal – is a contested narrative with overlapping and challenging voices, whether you’re listening to Hurston, Dworkin, Solanas, hooks, Simpson or Deer.

When geo politics enter the conversation – as with spaces where religion is a defining factor, such as the Middle East or the United States, lumbering like a rough beast towards not so much Jerusalem as Atwood’s Gilead – it only becomes more important to allow it to be defined personally, as, “the personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political.” (from the writings of Quellcrist Falconer, the founder of the Quellist movement, in Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon)

As the work is titled Migrant 3, Kahraman might be ‘speaking’ of Iraq or of her new home, in the United States, just as the mirrored figures have differences, as time and experience takes upon any sense of self.

More of Hayv Kahraman’s work can be seen at both her IG and her site.

~ Bart Gazzola

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