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Curated by Terry Gips and presented at The Art Gallery, University of Maryland, 1997
The title of the exhibition, Terra Firma, on the most simple level, refers to the steadfastness with which these women have worked on, around, or in dialogue with the female body. The work in the exhibition ranges broadly in media and in stance. It encompasses issues of identity, aspects of the abject, and strategies of humor, elegance, fantasy, and fact. However, a central and unifying proposition of the exhibition is that the body is not only familiar subject, but firm territory, the solid ground to which these women (and other artists, of course) repeatedly return. The body is the site for their work--the bridge between their interior struggles as artists, women, cultural agents, and social critics and the outside where audience engages with the forms they put forth. It can be said that all these artists fashion their works, to some degree, as mirrors of their own bodies, but never are these works predominantly self-portraits or highly personalized. Nor are they meant to reduce the contemporary experience of the female body to a common narrative. Each artist approaches the subject very differently. (The text on this page is adapted from the exhibition catalog which is available from The Art Gallery, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742 Telephone 301-405-2762)
Susan Brenner, who works in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a painter and installation artist, and often uses photography and textual scrolls. The two works selected for Terra Firma are A Holdfast Floating, consisting of 5 large painted panels, some of female figures floating in water and superimposed with text and others of text only; and Exquisite Corpse, consisting of three 6-foot columns of photographs in steel boxes and four scrolls of text on tarpaper, approximately 36" x 96" each. SUSAN BRENNER A Holdfast Floating
Nancy Fried, who works in New York, is represented by her white terra-cotta torsos of a woman who has undergone a radical mastectomy. Each figure is approximately 12 to 18 inches high, and often includes masks held in the hands of the woman, or other powerfully expressive gestures of the arms and hands. While the blunt fact of losing a breast is immediately declared, the works are not so much about breast cancer as they are about the primal power that comes from living with all the terrors and pleasures of humanity, and from creating form from that experience. NANCY FRIED
Lorna Simpson, who currently works in New York, is represented by photographs and photogravure editions in which she uses the black female as the central pillar around which to juxtapose terse fact and symbolic image. Works to be included are Counting (1991), Figure (1991) and Wigs (1994).
Kiki Smith, another highly visible New York artist, is represented by prints, drawings, and small glass and bronze sculptures which depict the female body, its parts, and its functions. The works selected for this show focus on her use of delicate papers used both as print surface and as sculptural material to convey the frightening fragility and vulnerability of the human body, and the parallel power of embracing such qualities in one's quest of self-definition.
Faith Wilding currently works in Pittsburgh and has produced a range of body-related art over many years. Her paintings, drawings, installations, and performance pieces can be simultaneously playful, erotic, beautiful, politically satirical, and curiously abject. For this exhibition, Wilding will create an installation wall of drawings of embryos, and also show work from the vellum life-size dress series such as Raped Dress and Stained Dress. FAITH WILDING embryoworld
Barbara Zucker, who works in Burlington, Vermont, takes a radically different approach in her series of sculptures For Beauty's Sake. She depicts the woman's body as it has been simplistically reduced by societal expectations and by the human struggles of vanity and mortality. Her elegantly minimal sculptures in steel and bronze, with titles such as Leg Shaving and Breast Enhancement, are, in a way, sophisticated cartoons of highly charged issues; they replay the simultaneously funny and painfully sad strategies women employ to cope with a body which is not perfect. As we consider our own reactions to the rough edges and imperfections of matter-of-fact bodies, we savor Zucker's flawlessly crafted forms. BARBARA ZUCKER Hair Straightening