Entering the gallery space, at the Rochester Contemporary, one is confronted with a plethora of fantasies and strange visions: grotesquely lumpy, skin-like, latex airplane-balloons hang from the ceiling; red balls, the color of blood, spill across the floor; white, plastic cable ties twist into ghost-like cornucopias; hundreds of beeswax doorknobs are piled into a corner; a collection of wooden bowls with cryptic messages written on their bottoms are offered to be read; hair drawings creep across an expansive wall; shelves stacked with knitted dishcloths seemingly turn into stone. At Hobart and William Smith Colleges' Art Gallery, two room-sized scrolls with writing covering their surfaces sweep across the space and intersect one another. It is the insistent spilling and piling, the intensity of the materials, the use of obsessive repetition, and themes of loss, mourning, and melancholia that bind the works into a coherent whole. Three of the eight artists chose to create apparitional appearances as traces of the past, and the loss it represents to them. Most of the works also required excessive amounts of time (one artist figured her labor as 1500 hours). Several works are memento mori - labors of love for those lost. These practices accumulate and resonate to create a larger coherence to the entire exhibition.
All of the works in this exhibition have been formed from domestic and vernacular materials, and formed by women's hands through repetitive gestures. The works corroborate psychoanalyst and theorist Luce Irigaray's conclusion that "[w]oman takes pleasure more from touching than from looking." The materials have a tactile, often sensual component that speaks to the pleasure of touch. In each case, the process is as important as the objects created. Repetition is central to each, and it is repetition in relation to time that defines the process, always of touching, of wrapping, of connecting one thing to another, of sweeping one's cut and inked hair across a surface, of molding and shaping, of knitting, of burning over and over onto a wooden surface. With each repetition, difference is created from sameness.
Repetition here takes on many roles. On the one hand, as Gilles Deleuze so adamantly insists, repetition is never "bare, mechanical, but each repetition or 'simulacra' contains difference within itself. Yet the act has for the individual the force of again and again, and as such, can have a strong psychological effect. Psychoanalytic theorist Jacqueline Rose suggests that a psychic impulse is at work in the desire and the act of repetition.
"The encounter between psychoanalysis and artistic practice is therefore 'staged', but only in so far as that staging has 'already taken place'. It is an encounter which draws its strength from that repetition, working like a memory trace of something we have been through before. It gives back to repetition its proper meaning and status: not lack of originality or something merely derived (the commonest reproach to the work of art); but repetition as insistence, that is, as the constant pressure of something hidden but not forgotten."
(...) Drawing from different parts of her body, from hair, to nose, ear, lips, labia, hands, feet, and fingers, Andrea Cote has worked to break down the gap between body and artwork, moving not between art and life so integral to Rauschenberg and art of the 60s, but between art and body. Cote's bodily-oriented work is heir to the feminist women performance artists, (such as) Janine Antoni, who use their bodies in direct and often harsh presentations of the ideologies of femininity. More typical of Cote's generation of women artists interested in the material nature of the female body, the ideological resonances are reduced and the emotional impact is made subtler in order to reflect a more complex, nuanced, and individual response. Rather than specific bodies, the viewer is asked to translate and empathize with an indirect bodily act.
Cote's wall drawing in this exhibition, however, has a different life of its own. As one enters the gallery, the image is reminiscent of the macro space of galaxies, it has an actuality to it of hair shorn or lost: beautiful continuous patterns of long heavy hair with needle-thin wisps escaping into the curves and sinuous lines of the thicker hair strands. On approach, the mass of wispy strands call to mind hair left in bathtubs and on beauty salon floors, throws one immediately and intensely into the micro space of repulsive physical abjection, of bodily leavings. The hair has been transformed from a substance belonging to the human body, to excess detritus. "Desire and repulsion" are indeed mixed here as the artist claims.
(...) Absence/ Excess/ Loss
speaks of mourning, performed through the gesture of repetition. The concern for process as much if not more than for the object, and the range and power of the materials used bring the viewer deep into the frequently melancholy consciousness of the artist. The sense of touch and the need for healing in many of the artists charge these works with consequence often absent in art today.
The depth of emotional power in the works and the process of repetition requiring hours of labor are exemplary of the best work of women today. For as art historian Dora Apel aptly describes:
"Art illuminates traumatic experience through the sideways glance, allowing the viewer to apprehend what can only be shown indirectly, allusively and in
sometimes surprising ways. Perhaps even more than literature, film or theater, visual art affects viewers in ways that are nonnarrative and noncognitive, in other words, in affective and emotional ways that are unsuspected, sometimes uncomfortable, raising contradictory or unresolved feelings. This is not to suggest that meaning itself is suspended, but that it operates in less than obvious ways, is multivalent and open-ended."