In: Female Artists

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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Julianna D’Intino | Connecting Rods: A Survey of Industry in the Niagara Region, 2015 – 2022
September 22, 2022

Julianna D’Intino | Connecting Rods: A Survey of Industry in the Niagara Region, 2015 – 2022

To talk of the legacy of GM when you live in the city of St. Catharines is akin to how your tongue will always go to the gap in your teeth, seeking something that was there and now is not, leaving nothing behind but a perceptible absence you are unable to ignore.

Julianna D’Intino’s images, both moving and still – and I’ve been lucky enough to see several bodies of work she’s produced – often have a local focus, and in some ways she steps into that role of photographer as social historian. Often this involves her adjacent community in Niagara, exploring her own immediate heritage and circle. One such series can be seen here.

Connecting Rods: A Survey of Industry in the Niagara Region is a family story, as well as a local one. The ‘connection’ in the title of this series is not just a nod to an industrial interpretation, but also the families, communities and city that is part of a network that once had its epicenter in the abandoned wastelands D’Intino presents us with….and in her fine words about this series, D’Intino also draws connections to other areas with similar experience, such as with Atlas Steels or John Deere in Welland.

That potential for ‘nostalgia’ doesn’t mean what D’Intino is telling us is through rose – coloured glasses, nor does it gloss over the reality: her words about this work are as unflinching and honest – and engaging – as her photographs.

“This is but one personal case study in the myriad of lost industry of the Niagara Region. Would the return of the Niagara Region as a manufacturing hub provide a sustainable solution to the region’s economic woes? No, it would not. What is missing in the region is sufficient work at wages high enough to sustain a well-balanced life at the Niagara Region’s new inflated cost of living. The last time that such security was widespread was when manufacturing was a leading industry.”

The legacy of GM in St. Catharines is surely a contested narrative, with ground fertile for those from here – like D’Intino, or myself – to mine. It’s as rife as the industrial damage left behind at the site (an ongoing issue in civic politics here which has led to some grotesque and unsettling bedfellows), and there are differing opinions in play. Anna Szaflarski, for example, offers another perspective on this history here.

D’Intino’s site is here, and more images and D’Intino’s considered words about Connecting Rods can be found here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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The Land of Error | Ioanna Sakellaraki
July 16, 2022

The Land of Error | Ioanna Sakellaraki

Ioanna Sakellaraki is best known for her evocatively mournful series The Truth is in the Soil, and it was the work of hers that initially caught my attention. But perusing her site, the more enigmatic and haunted The Land of Error series is the work that keeps pulling me back to it, and inspires me to share it with others. 

The only descriptor from the artist for this work is the following bold – and surely intimidating yet also evocative – declaration: 

THE FUTURE IS SPLIT BETWEEN MANMADE ANTITHESIS AND PARODIES OF HUMAN PREDICTION. THIS IS WHERE FICTION FINDS ITS JUSTIFIED PLACE.

Sakellraki’s work is often about memory, and an element of mourning. I would inject here that looking at these images, I am reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandius (1918) : Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away. Realizing that poem was written as WWI came to a close, I see correlations between the enigmatic post industrial wastelands that Sakellraki captures, and that earlier era’s destruction and desolation through technology. Quiet scenes of abandonment and detritus…..

Less historical, but equally dark, I’ve begun re watching the science fiction series FRINGE: and Sakellraki’s images also bring to mind the fictional group ZFT, from that show, with story arcs often centred upon world – building – and, of course, world – destroying, too. From that show’s mythology: ZFT in fact stands for “Zerstörung durch Fortschritte der Technologie” which is German for “Destruction by advancement of technology”….

More of Ioanna Sakellaraki’s artwork can be seen here, and more of this series can be enjoyed here

~ Bart Gazzola

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War Map Dress Trilogy | Carolyn Wren, 2003-2004
June 30, 2022

Carolyn Wren | War Map Dress Trilogy, 2003-2004
(lino blocks, hand-printed on Dupont silk, thread, zippers, mannequins, model airplanes, black paint)

I encountered these towering figures during Wren’s retrospective exhibition Task At Hand at the now shuttered Rodman Hall Art Centre several years ago. Standing in the large back gallery space, the three female figures dominated the room, with the flow of their dresses spilling out from them, pooling around them on the gallery floor. 

Visiting this show numerous times, I found that different ideas came to the fore with different interactions, from initial wonder to later, more critical consideration. When an artist / writer friend, Anna Szaflarski, visiting Niagara, came with me on one occasion, she saw the works in a very different light than I had, initially. Unsurprising, really, as when Szaflarski and I first met, it was around her exhibition at NAC about the historical detritus – or lack thereof – of General Motors’ legacy in St. Catharines, and I believe we connected over an irreverent honesty about history, the region, and the intersecting if conflicting stories of the place we both grew up in….

My reading had been informed by Wren’s own words, which are as follows: The ingenuity of Christopher Clayton Hutton’s invention of silk maps for the British Royal Air Force during World War II enabled pilots to use lightweight and durable maps to help them reach safety in times of crisis, and inspired women to make dresses out of the silk maps as their men returned home. The maps used by Wren in the dresses were made in Europe by the Canadian government and shipped to Canada for families to follow the movements of their loved ones fighting in the war.  Alluding to multiple layers of symbolism of the landscape in relation to the body, and reflecting on war and the politics of Feminism (viewpoint, memory, and identity), The War Map Dress Trilogy is more about history, location, distances, than it is about terrain.

I talk a lot about ‘contested narratives’: but this story, this Curator’s Pick is very much about that. Szaflarski – a former student of Wren’s, as Caroline taught in Niagara for some time, and helped shape a few generations of artists and art appreciators – upon seeing the exhibition, and these ‘women’, spoke more in a manner reminiscent of Barbara Kruger’s famous – and still relevant – artwork that declares that YOUR BODY IS A BATTLEGROUND. These battlefield maps, on dresses hanging on mannequins without heads or hands, look more like spaces to be attacked, or acted upon, utterly passive and just victims…. (“Afterwards she could not walk for a week, her feet would not fit into her shoes, they were too swollen. It was the feet they’d do, for a first offence. They used steel cables, frayed at the ends. After that the hands. They didn’t care what they did to your feet and hands, even if it was permanent. Remember, said Aunt Lydia. For our purposes your feet and your hands are not essential.” Margaret Atwood, A Handmaid’s Tale).

More of Carolyn Wren’s work can be seen here. A recent curatorial project of mine, based upon the Rodman Hall Collection, and which included Wren’s work, can be seen here

Photographs are by Sandy Fairbairn and the author.

~ Bart Gazzola

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TAMARA KOSTIANOVSKY | ACTUS REUS
June 17, 2022

Tamara Kostianovsky | Actus Reus

I am afraid the good woman did not realize how difficult it is to cut up a body, never having done so herself. (Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace)

To the Puritan all things are impure, as somebody says. (D.H. Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan Places)

Tamara Kostianovsky’s artworks are disquieting; that is meant as praise. What her sculptures in the body of work titled Actus Reus – both specific elements and the larger installations of multiple components – do is allude, and we do the rest. What we initially ‘think’ we’re looking at is not at all what we’re truly observing. An initial revulsion turns to seduction, and we find ourselves drawn in by both the formal attraction as well as the conceptual fracture that only makes her work more enticing. 

It’s almost appropriate, then, that one of the works that comprises Actus Reus is titled Abnegation (which means “the act of renouncing or rejecting something”); or that the name of the series itself is a ‘criminal’ legal term. Actus Reus is “sometimes called the external element or the objective element of a crime….the Latin term for the “guilty act” which, when proved beyond a reasonable doubt in combination with the mens rea, “guilty mind”, produces criminal liability in the common law−based criminal law jurisdictions of numerous countries….” There is almost a culpability in our own interactions with these artworks…..

Other works in this series – What It Once Was (2011), One and a Half (2008), Bound (2008), Venus (2011), Elegy (2009) – all leave the viewer feeling as though they’re looking upon – and enjoying gazing upon, devouring with their eyes – something that is forbidden, not meant to be seen, and definitely not be enjoyed, as though illicitly consuming visual pleasure from them….

Before I delve further into my interpretations of Kostianovsky’s work, her statement is as follows: The discovery of a world concealed behind the skin took form in my adolescence while working at a surgeon’s office, where veins exploded into waterfalls, cut ligaments set free the muscles they once contained, and chunks of fat poured over tissues of various colors and textures. A fascination with these encounters put the body at the center of my work, allowing me to use this imagery to reflect on consumption, ecology, and the voracious needs of the body.

Read more of Bart Gazzola’s thoughts on this work here.

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The Tissue Series | Lisa Nilsson
May 7, 2022

The Tissue Series | Lisa Nilsson

Everything that has beauty has a body, and is a body;
everything that has being has being in the flesh:
and dreams are only drawn from the bodies that are.
(D. H. Lawrence)

Lisa Nilsson’s works are immediately visceral. But when you learn how they’re assembled, that bodily aesthetic, suggesting a wetness, a moistness, if you will, suddenly becomes dry and almost antiseptic. 

This image is from her series of Anatomical Cross-Sections in Paper, and the artist offers the following about them and her process: These pieces are made of Japanese mulberry paper and the gilded edges of old books. They are constructed by a technique of rolling and shaping narrow strips of paper called quilling or paper filigree. Quilling was first practiced by Renaissance nuns and monks who are said to have made artistic use of the gilded edges of worn out bibles, and later by 18th century ladies who made artistic use of lots of free time. I find quilling exquisitely satisfying for rendering the densely squished and lovely internal landscape of the human body in cross section.

It’s interesting to consider the reference to bibles here – a tome that has much to say about the body and it’s ‘regulation’ (I’m old enough to remember the NEA ‘controversy’ when Mapplethorpe and Serrano were demonized by the Republican Helms, and how Lucy Lippard cast that in terms of adversarial religious dogma regarding interpolations of the body. Both artists mentioned here self identify as catholic and the late and unlamented Jesse Helms – their most bilious attacker – was a rabid evangelical). How the body is to be ‘regulated’ is also a fiery topic in the United States, right now….

I’m also reminded of the intersection between science and art, in terms of medical illustration, and an exchange from Katherine Dunn’s excellent novel Geek Love

“What made you,” clearing my throat, “decide to be an artist?”
Her eyes flick at my feet under frowning brows. “No, no. A medical illustrator. For textbooks and manuals … ” Her tongue sneaks out at a corner of her mouth as she slaps stroke after vicious stroke onto the defenseless page. “See, photographs can be confusing. A drawing can be more specific and informative. It gets pretty red in there. Pretty hot and thick.” 

More of Lisa Nilsson’s Tissue Series can be enjoyed here. Her work is meticulous and enthralling – like a bloodless autopsy. 

All photographs here are by John Polak. ~ Bart Gazzola

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The Mark – Olga Volgina
August 24, 2021

One of Olga Volgina’s more recent works that she’s shared on social media (as she’s a prolific artist) is a work that resonates in both an immediate and historical manner. Any (well made and meaningful) rendering of children has this power. Volgina’s children evoke a multiplicity of intersecting references: Goya’s portrait of Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga, who looks doll – like and innocent until a closer examination reveals several cats waiting to devour his pet bird, to the child’s indifference, is one. Delving even deeper into the worn faces and unflinching gaze of the children, I’m also reminded of Robertson Davies’ book World of Wonders. In response to one character relating his harsh yet essential childhood experiences, another defers that though he has experience “exploring evil” through his films, the evil of children is something that requires courage he lacks….

Volgina’s children must also bring to mind Ignorance and Want, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and in that instance offer a more disturbing consideration of how a child is perhaps a larger reflection (or repository) for the world in which they live. Volgina commented that when this work – titled The Mark – was finished, “now I look at them and they look at me”, but what they see, or what they think, is opaque to us. We can guess; but the children in The Mark are silent and staring, offering no answers. Perhaps they’re indifferent to us, perhaps demanding, or perhaps simply exhausted and bruised. 

Volgina lives and works in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her digital portraits, as she describes them, are both a bit unsettling and insightful. This brings to mind how sitting for some artists requires a degree of courage (never mind being nude but what of the deeper self that the artist might excavate and present for the world to see?).

See more of Olga Volgina’s work on Instagram, FB and at Etsy, where she and her twin sister, Liza Volgina, have a variety of engaging works on display. ~ Bart Gazzola

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Fire Caught and Portrait of an Artist (Franklin Ugochukwu) – Kary Janousek
September 7, 2021

There is an ethereal look to wet plate collodion photography that is difficult to describe. It’s no wonder that people thought that early photography was a method to steal the soul of the sitter; as you can recognize the individual, but they look detached, disconnected. The camera seems to catch something more than just the image of the person… it catches their essence.

The reason for this is that these images are primarily formed by collecting the UV light radiating from the subject, a light that is invisible to the naked eye. Kary Janousek (one of 4 of the “Dakota Revivalist Photographers” using wet plate collodion in North Dakota) uses this effect to beautiful ends. Fire Caught and Portrait of an Artist (Franklin Ugochukwu) are perfect examples of the process. Many of Kary’s images have spiritual undertones that are served well by the detachment. The images are of flesh and blood seem to transcend the glass plates they are formed on.

Based in Fargo, North Dakota, Kary is likely one of the only wet plate photographers ANYWHERE with a store front enterprise… walk in to her incredible studio in the historic center of town and you can have a plate made on the spot! Recently she has started experimenting with different types of glass, creating completely unique works of art.

You can find Kary Janousek at https://highhatportraiture.com and on IG @highhatportraiture

Shane Balkowitsch is another of the Dakota Revivalist Photographers and has been previously featured on curated.

~ Mark Walton

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Untitled – Jennifer King
August 29, 2021

Jennifer King’s photography has always intrigued me, so much so that I put this photo of hers (above) on the front cover of the first edition of foto:RE|VIEW magazine in 2019. Her work seemed to capture a certain type of childhood perfectly… all its innocence and curiosity, along with its foibles and anxieties.

Jennifer had always taken photographs but found a stronger connection with the medium after the birth of her first child. “The camera became a tool that allowed me to respond to and embrace a new identity that included motherhood. It also became a way for me to discover who my children were.”

King excels at capturing those minute, physical clues that reflect one’s emotional state: a hooded brow, the quiver of a lip, a flash of exasperation, unbridled energy brought on by wonder and adventure.

You can read more about Jennifer’s work with her children in the article BECOMING, found here at foto:RE. You follow her @jencking and contact her HERE.  ~ Mark Walton

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