Cherie Buck-Hutchison at eyelounge

DSC06625No art exhibition is perfect, but Ms. Buck-Hutchinson’s feminist revision of the biblical story of the Lot’s wife, Adit, is as close as one may come for many years. Adit’s Ode: A modest revolt is more than an art exhibition; it is an immersive, multi-sensory experience employing interdisciplinary techniques and a vast resource of media and themes that lead each visitor through an exploration of their own values and belief systems. The entirety of the show is constructed as a poem—including a poetic projection broken into three acts, such as is traditional in an ode, that correspond with the three sections of the installation.

The first room, Act I, is a vineyard of hanging IV bags with vegetation of various nutritional strains (strawberries, sweet potatoes, squash, green beans, etc.) growing from within.  The artist introduces the first of many “prayer balls,” salt crusted spheres with medical syringes protruding resembling medieval flails.  Adit announces her arrival in modern times in an audio/video projection cast through the vines of plastic.  Escalating into Act II, we are confronted with hanging wall vessels crusted with salt, a young ram’s head filled with wheat grass accompanied by an IV drip.  Prominently displayed is a dismembered arm, again caked with salt, from whose hollow center protrudes a flutter of pink chiffon.  Adit’s ode turns to her fatal moment as she is changed and broken.  Stepping into Act III, the poem reaches its climax and Adit describes her leaving the worldly realm.  A bright white x-ray light blasts clarity to the small room and we are surrounded by the left over syringes extending from its, and nearly every surface.

DSC06624Adit’s Ode is a visual and literal poetic revision of a classic tale from religious mythology.  Feminists often employ revisionist methods to protagonize subdued female figures.  Buck-Hutchison’s work clearly reframes Adit as a tragic figure, oppressed by the male dominated culture of Old Testament tradition; demonized as the polar sinner to the male hero much like that of Eve to Adam.  The artist’s feminist approach to the religious subject is undoubtedly influenced by her rebellion against her own patriarchal religious upbringing.  She confronts the misogyny of biblical mythology head-on and poses the critical question, “What if?”

In the Bible Adit is only referred to as Lot’s wife, and she is only mentioned two times—once when she is turned into a pillar of salt, and later by Jesus.  A combination of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic texts provide her name and a fuller written history of Adit.  The inhabitants of Sodom were known to be inhospitable to visitors.  Lot had spent time with Abraham who influenced him greatly, especially with his generosity.  When two travelers came to Lot’s home he invited them to stay and offered them food, which bothered his wife greatly.  When he asked her to retrieve salt for the guests she went door to door asking for salt and telling her neighbors about the visitors.  Later in the evening a lynch mob came to Lot’s home and demanded he turn over the two travelers.  Unknown to Lot the two men were angels sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and they warned him to leave the city and save his family, but they insisted none of them were to look back.  Lot, Adit and their two youngest daughters fled, but outside of the city Adit turned around to look back upon her home and she was turned to a pillar of salt.  The salt represented the nature of her sin and became her demise as she viewed the wrath brought upon the twin cities.  Some texts state that was her punishment for seeing God himself.

In Buck-Hutchison’s research she found that the ancient Hebrew word for “salt” is very close to the word “angel,” which is problematic in its translation.  The artist offers a scenario where Adit’s poor health caused a heart-attack during a time of great stress causing her to fall towards the city and disobey the warning not in unfaithfulness but accidental fashion.  The transformation creates a new reading of the context in which the artist offers that Adit became an angel and now visits the 21st century, critiquing current socio-economic situations relating to food and medical treatment for the poor.  The contents of the exhibition could lead to an entire dissertation on religious mythology, gender issues, history/herstory, and modern social issues related to poverty and health.  The story Buck-Hutchison unveils is only the means to open the discourse.  She hits on so many topics that any single visitor can take away at least one eye-opening aspect, which makes this such a successful endeavor.

– by Justin Germain

Adit’s Ode: A Modest Revolt

Part One

I have moved through to now, to you.

The salt of a former marriage still clings

like halos around my ears. I am not the woman you

thought you knew. A form tossed up from the sea, distinct,

there are many. Did you beseech my sisters

as to where I dared to evaporate like angels?

I am Adit, Eldith, Lot’s wife, mother

woman, healer, daughter, ageless.

I have plaited roots, incensed over balsam.

What remains unknown when arms stretch through golden sundials?

Part Two

I know loss. My other daughters’ younger

faces still frequent my closed eyes. I paced the shade under our

pomegranate trees where we snapped summers

gone, mulled raisin wine, milling hours

into love. But the angel wrenched my arm

until I am a fig tree shimmying

caught between two needs. My eagle heart

is caged, talons splintering my chest as I implore

my people: My herbs! On the table – my Hawthorne berries!

I sacrifice money to the slick mud as I reach

squalling for help –for I taste my heart and see the blue in my buckling knees.

Part Three

I recall nothing more. The basalt

heaved by wind fuels a fire. I lasted

an hour. Now I anoint seeds on altars.

for what has fasting brought to pass?

I ask, who has salted these fields?

In what minute is a decision consummate?

Varied are the branches you have for yield.

Do not worry of me. Wind does not abate.

My eyes are gusts, my bones flux.

I have long left my crystalline matrix.

– Cherie Buck-Hutchison    2014

Feminism Today at Shade Gallery (The monOrchid)

wide 2

Feminism Today at Shade Gallery (The monOrchid)

The announcement of an art exhibition focused on feminism these days may lead to an array of gasps and conjure mental images of militant, man-hating women.  But that is exactly why it is relevant, if not necessary—to change the perception of what feminism is today.  I myself was skeptical, wondering if I would experience a show about feminism or one simply including all female artists.  Nicole Royse, curator for Shade Projects in downtown Phoenix, had a spot open up in her exhibition schedule, last minute I am told, and she immediately went to work organizing the show focused on what feminism means in our current social landscape for March, women’s history month.  Impressively Ms. Royse selected 13 local artists, all female, whose body of work was feminist in nature or who she knew would create powerful expressions for the show.

The artists featured—Kristin Bauer, Christine Cassano, Cherie Buck Hutchinson, Mimi Jardine, Melissa Martinez, Monica Aissa Martinez, Constance McBride, Lara Plecas, Irma Sanchez, Mary Shindell, Beth Ames Swartz, Marilyn Szabo and Denise Yaghmourian—do not all necessarily identify as feminists, but as females they each step into that role every day and provide unique views on the women’s issues still prevalent in our society.  As such, each has their own definition of feminism and how it relates to them personally, which produced a diverse, thought-provoking exhibition that brings to light issues that are still too often ignored.

One of the reasons feminism is ignored is because its meaning is diluted and misunderstood by the younger generations.  This is evident in the Tumblr page “Women Against Feminism” that claims feminism casts women as victims and men as predators.  Pop stars are not helping the cause, such as singer/songwriter Lana Del Ray who calls herself a feminist as an excuse for her questionable behavior.   But almost daily there are news stories about salary inequality, access to birth control, and the pro-life/pro-choice debate that prove gender equality is still a relevant issue.  These are the issues feminism is concerned with and defined by according to the Feminist Majority Foundation, an organization that stresses equality, empowerment, and civil rights for women, as well as the LGBT community, and all groups that experience discrimination.

Some of the artists in Feminism Today relate to the second wave of feminism, which was closely tied to the civil rights movement in the 60s, but most of them identify with the current third wave, which is more global and seeking balance in areas ranging from religion to the sex-traffic market; healthcare to women’s portrayal in the media.  As a whole, the exhibition serves as a resounding, “Yes!” to the question, “Is feminism relevant today?”  I typically would not discuss every artist in a group exhibition this large, but in the spirit of inclusiveness I feel it is important to mention each of them and recognize their contribution to the discourse.

Swartz

Beth Ames Swartz

Beth Ames Swartz is a committed feminist since 1963 and has periodically implemented feminist ideals into her work, which mainly focuses on wisdom systems, compassion, and the sacredness of all life.  Her two works “Return of the Chalice #2” (1988) and “The Wounded Healer, Healing Our Sacred Wounds #3” (1992) speak to feminine (or non-masculine) energy as a protector, but also as a deterrent of violence.  Cherie Buck-Hutchison’s digitally manipulated, layered photographs explore public and private traditions that lack equality in decision making roles within practices in a society proud of its forward thinking.  Constance McBride’s ceramics portray her own personal experience with aging and its effects on the female body—not just the physical but the emotional effects brought on by societal obsession with youth, especially pertaining to women and the definition of beauty.  Her bravery in exploring such a personal topic is testament to the strength of an active, engaging female artist.

Irma Sanchez is typically known for her political art and feminism plays just a fraction of the whole of her body of work, in which she often refers to her place as a Latina in Arizona.  Well-versed in women’s issues she chose to contribute a work focused on the balance of the roles in the family, and how they are defined by gender.  Monica Aissa Martinez also identifies that her work naturally reflects her gender and heritage as a Latina, and like Sanchez who focuses on the female role in the family, Martinez includes the masculine with the feminine, in order to create balance.  For many years she has been developing her anatomical mapping system in her work, seen here in “Anatomy of Support Structures” (2015).  The painting masterfully uses polarities to balance the work along with the interaction of the roles women and men play in our world.  The balance between the male and female figures, a self-portrait with her spouse, displays support and mutual love in her own family while exposing the lack of such in our imbalanced society.

szabo

Marilyn Szabo

Lara Plecas identifies herself as a strong, independent feminist, that’s how she was raised.  What that means to her is that she is equal and just as free as any man, including her husband.  “Our Journey I & II” (2015) are photo-encaustics using images taken while she and her husband were horseback riding together on their honeymoon enjoying the view and exploring together.  The images are a metaphor for the commitment they made to each other and represent the equality in their marriage, right down to the agreement that they each contribute 50/50 to all of their financial needs.  Marilyn Szabo’s three photographs of opera singer Maria Callas also speak to financial issues in feminism, specifically the challenges of a woman trying to get ahead in the entertainment industry during a lifetime that included struggles with her body image and the decline of her voice as she aged.

casano martinez

Christine Cassano and Monica Aissa Martinez (photograph courtesy of Cassano)

Christine Cassano’s installation works speak to femininity and strength in the face of great physical pain as well as the use of her own body to create the elements of her artwork.  “Manumission” (2015) is a 9 foot high hanging installation made up of 200+ pieces of porcelain and small mirrors.  She formed the porcelain by shackling clay to her body very tightly with twine and releasing them.  The title of the work is defined as a formal emancipation from slavery, calling attention to the literal release of the porcelain from its constriction to her body as well as that of women from the grasp of a male dominated society.  Another of Cassano’s works, “Get Into Your Own Skin” (2015) is made of more porcelain pieces resembling abstract vertebrae or bone-like structures connected to a fishing net hung like a women’s fashion display.  Cassano’s use of porcelain is interesting as she refers to its use in dolls but also its fragile appearance and incredible durability.  Similarly, Mary Shindell’s intricate drawings of natural desert forms speak to the delicateness of the forms and the act of drawing, polarized by the strengths of nature’s ability to defy extremes.  Nature inspired Melissa Martinez’ work for the show as well.  Her drawing “The Snake, The Datura, and The Sphinx Moth” (2015) portrays the family unit as the masculine viper and feminine flower, both toxic in nature, feeding the child, a sphinx moth often associated with rebirth.  The simplicity of the image gives to a complex idea of gender roles in families and the mixture of them having the potential for both harm or good.

Like Shindell and Martinez, Mimi Jardine is also very concerned with the natural world and calling attention to the environment in her work.  Her latest project, The Office of Environmental Responsibility, proved an interesting collaboration for this exhibition about feminism as she claims she is “ a conceptual artist afflicted with a preoccupation with the existence of litter” and a card carrying member of the National Organization for Women.  The work, titled “The Litter Genderization Project” (2015) relates to the rejection of feminism by today’s youth based on semantics, not the root of the movement—gender equality.  Jardine’s work is interactive, it allows the visitor to select from a number of found objects (litter) lied on a table and asks them to assign it a gender by disposing of it in the assigned “male” or “female” waste basket.  She also provides a survey asking why they assigned the gender to that particular object.  Jardine’s hope is that the interaction will illuminate our need as individuals to categorize, and the flaws that come with that need.

Yag

Denise Yaghmourian

wide

Kristin Bauer and Mary Shindell

Denise Yaghmourian is drawn to pattern and the connection between all things.  Her work “Imperfectly Perfect” is evidence of her preference for repetition.  It consists of hundreds of defective embroidered American flag patches attached to wood panels measuring in total 36 by 120 inches.  She views the imperfections as representations of the unique differences in us all as individuals.  The symbolism of the flag is a metaphor for the repeated ideals of American equality and freedom for all.  Kristin Bauer’s “Full Circle” (2015) also uses repetition as a key initiator in a dialogue on feminism.  It is a work of process art where the actual creation is as important as the final product.  Sixty-eight pieces of rectangular paper push-pinned to the wall in a perfect mandala, with the words “ONWARD” and “UPWARD” repeating back and forth in an infinite circle.  It represents the daily mantra, or affirmation, of women dedicated to growth and change, but still experiencing the effects of inequality.

A puzzling aspect of the show is that although not officially included, Christopher “Boats” O’Shana’s photograph “The Belt of Venus, Chapter 1” hung adjacently, near the east entrance of the space.  The image depicts a male prostitute (played by local artist Daniel Funkhouser) leaving a dingy hotel towards a Cadillac driving pimp, with a disgruntled john chasing behind.  Many of the artists included in Feminism Today agreed that there is definitely room for male voices in feminism, because it is about gender equality.  Some of them were unaware of the proximity of the photograph, some ignored it, but a few were adamantly opposed to its presence in the space.  It caused me to consider local male artists who could have been included; Daniel Funkhouser would have been a perfect fit based on his work challenging gender roles.

As I introduced earlier, I was concerned that the show was simply going to be female artists, which would not have been a bad thing, it could be considered feminist in that regard too, but thankfully all of the work did explore the roles of women and gender in our society.  Even more telling was the fact that there are so many artists that could have been included in this show.  I found myself wondering why certain others were not and I had a long list.  Then I realized that is a testament to the great representation and strength of female artists in the Phoenix area, even though many still feel they are underrepresented overall in the art world.  This exhibition is a big win for the city, my thanks to all the women involved.

Bonus – I recently came across a great opportunity for women artists.  Moore College of Art and Design has launched a brand new website for women’s history month MooreWomenArtists.org, an online destination for all women visual artists.  Those who provide content will receive a free contributor’s page where they can promote themselves and their work.

All photographs courtesy of Nicole Royse unless otherwise noted.