Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dirty, Sexy Clay

Annabeth Rosen’s Contingency at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery is one of the many offerings that were coordinated for the NCECA conference. Her work blends ceramic with assemblage, lashing together towers out of individually fired parts. And, oh, those parts… a balance of penetrators and penetrables, they evoke genitalia (and guts) stacked into ebullient, yet controlled clusterfucks. Please trust me: I mean this in the kindest way possible. The repetition of specific forms, dismembered from a body, suggested spare parts sitting around to be interchanged, replacing those worn out with use.

I immediately thought back to my Classical education and the Ancient Greek sculptures of Artemis of Ephesus, bearing dozens of ovoid breasts.

Take for example the piece above: a chicken wire sack of breasts and vulvas, anyone?

Bulbous, red-tipped oblong forms sprouting upward? A penis plant? Am I totally missing the mark here? There is that venerable question of whether the sex is in the work, or whether it is in the mind of the viewer.

The inclusion of this work was a distracting peculiarity—its use of video very much at odds with the rest of the installation.

While I liked her sculptural work, I did find it monotonous, because I fixated so heavily on this element of sex, or at least of the physical human body. Thinking back on much of the clay that I have viewed within the past month, her work is unexceptional in this regard. Whereas many of the pieces I saw across several galleries were figuratively literal, and often dealt with gender identity rather than just sex, Rosen’s are more oblique in their depiction, though not sufficiently abstracted to prevent me from deeming this a sex organ farm.

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