The artist Jess Riva Cooper’s Viral Series imagines the human body overtaken by malevolent plant life; like the bodies of the dead, her ceramic women busts are infected with ivy, flowers, and insects. Inspired by the Hebrew figures of the golem and the dybbuk, the viral females occupy a space between life and death; like golem, they are anthropomorphic beings brought to life by human (as opposed to divine) hands, but they are also seemingly suffocated by roots that harken back to the cleavage of the ominous dybbuk, a departed soul that fixes itself to the body of a living person. The word “dybbuk,” in fact, arrises from the Hebrew verb for “sticking from the root.”
Unlike the figures of Yiddish folklore, Cooper’s busts are female, modeled after the seductive sculpted faces of Classical Greece. Closing resembling the great alluring forms like Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Cnidus, these figures abandon the feminine piety in favor of an ecstatic sexuality; serpentine vines crawl across their tender cheeks, and their mouths open wide to give birth to lush roses or to allow passage to fertile swarms of scarab beetles. Their eyes appear to roll back in sensual pleasure; their teeth gnaw on thick roots.
Cooper’s series seems to draw on ancient and Judeo-Christian mythology to construct a cohesive and elaborate narrative of female creative power; these women represent death and birth in equal measure. As the bodies of the dead are consumed by insects, they ultimately give rise to blossoming flora. This strange and natural cycle of rebirth serves as a metaphor for the artist’s beloved Detroit, where buildings and homes succumb to financial ruin and are eventually overgrown with feral plant life. Take a look. (via Colossal and HiFructose)
The sculptor Livio Scapella‘s shrouded figures seem to be in eternal conflict with their materiality, trapped like lost souls within the confines of stone. In this strange work, titled “Ghosts Underground,” the artist uses the aesthetic dialogue normally associated with classical Renaissance masters, establishing the suggestion of movement within the frozen busts; necks contort, and mouths hang open as if to speak. Visual weight is distributed uncomfortably, and like Michelangelo’s Prisoners, Scapella’s figures yearn for escape, gasp for air.
Like a moving, writhing funeral shroud, the fabric is rendered with the utmost delicacy and softness, affording the busts a ghostly significance, as if they were invisible men and women defined only by the cloth in which they are contained. Like those caught frantically between life and death, the haunting figures seemingly do battle with the elements of the natural world and its order. As they strain against stone, they are powerfully anchored by spectacular quartz and amethyst held steadfastly to their chest. Like an external representation of the soul or spiritual self, the burdensome yet magnificent gemstones lie cradled within the airy fabric above the heart.
In a particularly powerful diptych, the “white soul” sits beside the “black soul;” where the white soul rests, embracing her permanent and immobile fate, the black soul strives against eternity, his mouth open in a frightful scream. The male, art historically associated with the intellectual and rational, is in turmoil; the female, on the other hand, becomes unified with nature and with the elements from which she is constructed. Within each of us lies this powerful duality: will we succumb to death or will we struggle to escape it? Take a look. (via Hi Fructose and Juxtapoz)
Through careful manipulation, Silvia Grav‘s ethereal black and white images capture a psychological realm where death and fear lurk around each corner, a world beyond the material where rich blacks and blinding white tones evoke a heightened anxiety and ecstasy. In her spooky portraits, the self is blurred by smoke and transparency, as if transported from the page by some unknowable force.
As with the works of the prolific photographer Francesca Woodman, Grav’s images are often set against the backdrop of the domestic space. The house, associated symbolically with the female, is no longer seen as safe or comforting; deteriorated walls and filthy floors cannot protect or contain inhabitants, and a woman rises ghostly towards a lit window. In another eerie image, the sleeping female is disturbed in sleep, her delicate floral bedding overcast by a foreboding shadow whose presence forces her to cover her breast and frightfully clasp at her back. Later, she is shown to be levitating, reaching out for the comforts of her mattress.
Within the terror of the images lies a sort of ecstasy, a dreamy surrender to instability and fright. The woman subject, surrounded by smoke clouds that seem to melt away her flesh, clasps her skeleton hands in rapturous prayer. Her nighttime slumber is seen in mysterious light, and she basks in its warmth, seeming to wriggle with delirium so that the majority of her body is pulled out of the frame.
The impressive work seems to invoke the memory of troubled women artists who came before. In one poignant image, the artist seems to mirror the famous profile portrait of Virginia Woolf by the photographer George Charles Beresford, down to the dark, pulled-back hair, the white blouse, and the ominous shadow below the eye. Contributing to the dialogue on femininity and mortality began by the likes of Woodman and Woolf, Grav adds a unique and potent modern voice. (via Colossal)