California College for the Arts (CCA) visiting scholar Julia Bryan-Wilson introduced Session Two at Craft Forward, on Saturday, April 2. The theme was Body Craft. She asked, HOW DO BODIES SHAPE CRAFT? Bodies shaped by gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc.?
HOW DOES CRAFT SHAPE BODIES? The physical effort of craft impacts the wrist, a joint, hand, or eye. Craft touches the body, makes it hurt, creates isolation, pain, and exploitation.
WHAT ABOUT THE SOCIAL BODY? The body politic, like patriotic sewing circles, or groups united by feminist and queer identity.
The BODY CRAFT featured two speakers, Lauren Kalman and Allyson Mitchell, who talked about craft centered around the body. Both speakers explained their work with a quantity of interesting, shocking, and even funny images. Before I continue with further commentary, I will share a series of images from the lecture.
The above photos provided by emiko oye were taken during the lecture by Allyson Mitchell. It compares a Playboy bunny-type image of the idealized, hairless female body with work by the artist. Her females are the reverse or inverse with extra "hairy" skin as they are constructed from fuzzy and tacky fabric. (I assume purposely selected to be in poor taste.) The artist is also talking about the idealized white, female body.
Above photo by emiko oye was taken during Allyson Mitchell's lecture. Titled "Hungry Purse" it is constructed from found materials, afghans, etc. The assembly of these works (that were often dusty, moldy, or mildewy) caused health problems from exposure for Allyson Mitchell.
The above photo taken by emiko oye from the lecture by Allyson Mitchell shows the Ladies Sasquatch 2010. The figures were constructed from fake fur. Some are very hairy female figures with a "big bush". Essentially the smaller animals are a conversation about what are acceptable renderings of women, and the analogy to small cute, fuzzy, adorable, young, animals.
The photo is by emiko oye from the lecture by Laura Kalman. This dental hardware is temporary. Lauren Kalman photographed and video-taped the process of "sewing" the pearls into the mouth and around the teeth with wire. However grotesque or beautiful it may be, it is a commentary about objects that intersect with the body, objects that define the body. This is one of many pieces of jewelry that were appliances that fit into her mouth. As an artist, she carefully documents the intersection of body and appliance with videos and photos.
"Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellish-
ments": Nevus Comedonicus
Artist: Lauren Kalman, 2009 Photo Source
These small embellishments do actually pierce the skin. They are part of a whole series using acupuncture needles.
It is interesting to note that this is not Lauren Kalmans' body and the ornamentation (as a reflection of disease) did not harm the body. Regardless, she felt uncomfortable applying them to another person's body.
What did I learn? I was quite disturbed by a particular aspect of these lectures and feel compelled to comment further. Before continuing, I would like to clarify here that I am not commenting about whether I like or dislike the work. My concern is not about artwork that discusses the narrow stereotype of beauty in our culture. I agree with this aspect of the social critique.
I see self-inflicted pain and unhealthy behavior in body piercings, through-the-skin stitching of body adornment, flaunting of an extra 60 to 100 lbs of excess body fat, and unhealthy studio practice.
When these young women stand on stage, I am concerned women are role models for other young artists that might copy them. This is all like the myth of the self-abusive artist like Van Gogh cutting off your ear because this makes you a great artist.
This is no different than other abusive and destructive behaviors endorsed by fashion such as tanning beds, wearing contortionist corsets, or disabling high heels. They are all examples of manipulation of women's bodies. Whether by fashion, or art, it's all the same.
I felt uncomfortable as a spectator in both lectures of this session. It was not the strong graphic component or "queer" content. I felt disturbed that by just sitting in the audience I was endorsing this form of inflicting craft or body politic.
Ladies Sasquatch 2010 by Allyson Mitchell
Find more information about this work online.
No matter how the manipulation of the female body is justified with intellectual content or being "Pretty Porky and Pissed off", it isn't healthy. And yes, unhealthy behaviors are my business because every one of us will pay for it with higher health insurance fees. That is my body politic!
What were the thought-provoking issues raised? Both speakers identified problems with detrimental consequences of their artistic/crafty exploration.
Allyson Mitchell admitted late in the session Q & A that working with fuzzy, dusty, musty, moldy, mildew-infested material has caused health problems.
Lauren Kalman admitted that she felt uncomfortable applying "beauty patches" to other women. She realized that she could not do to other people what she has done to herself in the name of art or craft.
David Howes (in the previous session at Craft Forward) spoke about the senses. His main theme was that western culture is biased toward the visual, ignoring all other senses. When the senses and the body say "NO", why aren't artists listening?
For women who suffer from self-manipulation of their bodies, whether by anorexia, bulimia, cutting, piercing, or weight, in most cases, these manifestations are because they feel their bodies are the only thing that they can control. These behaviors exist within all strata of society, but it is not acceptable behavior even if rationalized by intellectual rhetoric.
Despite all the recognition for these two individual artists, should the craft community endorse these self-destructive behaviors? Lauren Kalman has received recognition for early work which was less destructive. Was it necessary to escalate with the more shocking examples involving piercing the body?
Why do some Lesbians use excess weight to create an identity as "porky and pissed off" when it is so self-destructive to their health? This issue deserves more attention than an in-your-face candy heart or artistic construction about body hair. A healthy body image is achieved by a balance of a healthy diet (not dieting) along with exercise, not by excessive eating or shaving (or not shaving) your legs.
The body politic has opinions, and this was one of them.
Please decide for yourself and leave a comment.
Background about the speakers (below).
Lauren Kalman is a visual artist whose practice is invested in installation, video, photography, and performance. Through her work she investigates perspectives of beauty, body image, value, and consumer culture.
The web site for Allyson Mitchel is worth looking at....at least the opening page will surprise you.
Fat:The Anthropology of an Obsession with an essay by Allyson Mitchell.
This post was updated on February 1, 2022, to provide current links.