The Victorian doll is a symbol of feminine delicacy and piety, but the Scottish sculptor Jessica Harrison has turned that notion on its head, constructing porcelain figures and painting their flesh with vivid sailor tattoos. Harrison, previously featured here for her graphic and macabre figurines, subtly builds upon contemporary dialogues of sexuality and the female body. Where Victorian women were encouraged to be sexually modest, religious and sober, Harrison’s dolls adopt the visual language associated with drunkenness and sexual freedom on the high seas. Sailors, feared for their rowdy traditions, were thought of as the antithesis of the ideal woman, who was almost always middle class, white, home-bound.
Harrison’s dolls, like many Victorian woman, wear corsets and petticoats of soft, pastel hues; one even modestly holds a fan. But these seemingly coy women obviously have some ruffian pasts. Tattooed on one woman’s pale arms are the names of a dozen conquests: Daisy, Rita, Maria, Eileen. Unlike the figurines treasured by small Victorian children, Harrison’s characters seem to have anachronistically accompanied Sailor Jerry on his boozy pin-up filled adventures. Beside a budding rose sewn into the color of her dress, a lady reveals a pair of flying swallows, an icon that appears frequently in mid-20th century sailor tattoos.
Harrison’s impressive series coyly lays bare the deeply entrenched sexism, racism, and classism of the Victorian era, during which women were not permitted to vote or visit pubs. With their waists cinched and their hair powdered into elaborate updos, these seemingly fragile porcelain figures contain an undeniable grit that transcends all social barriers.
Kirra Jamison has a new site and a new series. This Australian artist creates works in series that are visually striking and unexpected. Her series of gouache drawings on paper are reminiscent of intricate Chinese paper cuts to a monumental scale. She is an artist to watch, continually moving forward and diversifying her body of work through new mediums and new series, each even more intriguing than the last. Her past works explore themes of mystical narrative, isolated places, and decorative patterns.
Artist Wen Fang has a way turning an eye toward the often overlooked. In a way, some of her work memorializes the unfortunately common. This first installation – a room filled with hanging knives printed with images of garbage – is titled Rain and illustrates this well. She explains the personal story and Chinese idiom behind the installation:
“One day I was on a public bus, heading to a suburban enclave not far from my home on the outskirts of Beijing. The road was lined on both sides by filthy, stagnant drainage ditches. The disgusting smell of the water wafted into the bus, immediately wiping out the hunger I was feeling a moment before. The water was blue-grey, and looked quite thick. The surface was covered in floating instant noodle packages, popsicle sticks, rotting vegetables and other garbage that couldn’t be sold as scrap. Suddenly I saw a stray dog at the edge of the ditch, trying to drink the water. Several times he would approach the water with his snout, only to be repulsed by the powerful stench. In the end, I guess he was just too thirsty, and he hesitantly stuck his snout in the water, taking a few gulps. It sent pangs through my heart. Lots of migrants live by the drainage ditches. Their kids run around like wild dogs, and are just about as dirty. About half of their toys were picked up along the side of this road. None of the adults control their actions, as these migrant workers are too busy trying to eke out a living, and the old people just sit there by the side of the road. The Chinese refer to these situations as knives raining down from the heavens…that is to say; this is the worst it can get…I don’t know if this is the worst possible situation, but these knives often cut right into my heart. That’s why I make them, so that everyone can see these knives. Economic development is a sound idea, but how much money does it take to be truly wealthy? I spent my childhood playing in the wilderness around here, while these kids are spending their childhoods playing on the trash heaps. I really wish these kids could grow up in gardens, just as we promised. But what I really don’t know is, when we finally have enough money, whether or not the garden will be anything more than a bunch of sharp knives.…”
I know it wasn’t easy for you. That is, those inevitable years, often landing around middle school, when we all seem to exude an uncontrollable weirdness. While doing our best making our way through that awkward phase, it often seems like it’ll never pass. However, designer Merilee Allred offers proof that it does indeed pass. Her Awkward Years Project captures not-so-award looking people showing off their awkward years photos. While the project does illustrate that us nerds, geeks, freaks, fashion illiterate, and all around weirdos do pull out of it, it points out something more important: when it seems like no one will go easy on you, perhaps especially when things seem this way, own it.
For the next couple weeks, I will be posting up some of my favorite applications (as well as previous works) of the Rhizome Commissions (Rhizome at the New Museum, one of my favorite media art blogs), a program which provides grants to new media artists exhibiting a large amount of potential but maybe aren’t yet fully recognized in their field.
Jeremy Bailey’s proposal, DIALECTICAL SOFTWARE GUNDAM SUIT, “intends to create a new live performance involving a software “suit” that augments and extends both the creative and destructive abilities of the performer. The image of the suit will be superimposed in real-time over the artist during the performance. The work will be satirical, but will appear as a sincere attempt by the artist to create a more advanced human form.”