Ever hear the expression ‘gone to pieces’? This is usually in reference to a woman who has lost her composure, gotten emotional, and (God-forbid) cried. In “Part & Parcel,” an exhibition at Arts Guild New Jersey, the unifying motif is a more literal portrayal of this phrase. The exhibition, opening on March 25, 2012, includes artworks that depict physically fragmented women with a variety of implications and interpretations. Isolating parts of the body, as explained by sculptor Frances Heinrich, “works both to reference the ‘whole’ and to add inherent cultural meaning” to the representation.
The show will be held at 1670 Irving Street, in downtown Rahway, New Jersey. The exhibition opens with a free, public reception on Sunday, March 25, 1:00-4:00 PM, and runs through April 26, 2012. Gallery hours are Saturdays and Sundays, 1:00-4:00 PM, and during regular office hours on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM. The exhibition is wheelchair accessible.
The practice of making art that focuses on individual body parts is paramount to the artistic identity of such Feminist art heroes as Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, and Frida Kahlo, who oppose the traditional representation of the human body in Western art history in its longing for ideals of perfection. “The tendency towards deconstruction is not a rejection or criticism of the form in its entirety,” says curator Bonnie Gloris, “but an attempt at better understanding it.” This simplification of the figure “requires the viewer to participate with the work,” agrees sculptor Tom Bartel, who considers “that which is absent as significant as that which is present.” Fragmentation of the body was first explored by Cubist, Dada and Surrealist artists in the early twentieth century. Contemporary artists have continued to explore and build upon fragmentation as a metaphor for humankind’s “fragile potentiality crushed by commercial, popular, scientific and aesthetic pressures”.
Some artists use fragmentation to explore issues of self-image. This may manifest itself as a veneration for certain parts of the body, and an acknowledgement that although women have flaws and weaknesses, these ‘imperfections’ should be embraced, and women’s ability to confront and transcend them should be celebrated. This idea is supported by Jane Zweibel’s paintings, which represent “an on-going quest for identity in our chaotic world.” The title of her series Matrix points to the stability of women despite the constant challenges they encounter and transformations they undergo. Similarly, Carol Schwartz’s wooden sculptures of women radiate tremendous strength. “They will not be manipulated,” says Schwartz of her sculptures. “It is, however, with the softness of a woman that they defiantly meet the world.”
In contrast, exploration of personal identity can express the tendency for women to fixate on areas of their body that they are dissatisfied with, culminating in a distorted self-image that fosters self-consciousness and contempt. Rather than embracing their distinct identities, women become defensive and guarded. This is the result of how the woman sees herself, how others see her, and perhaps most of all, how she perceives others see her. Modern media perpetuates this unhealthy obsession, a topic addressed in Deborah Pohl’s drawings. She condemns catalogs as “purveyors of images of desire…I work defensively to gain control of their attack on our insecurities. I embed the clothing with abstractions as I regain individual rights for creativity and self-concept back from the advertisement,” says Pohl.
Fragmentation is at times a vehicle for symbolizing critical issues of disempowerment, sexual exploitation, and domestic abuse. Seeing solitary limbs, organs, and decapitated bodies often conjures notions of powerlessness, vulnerability and violence. Such is the case with Etta Winigrad’s Restraint, a solitary leg bound by rope. Our patriarchal culture breeds women to seek male approval, and this quest is subsequently capitalized on by men.
Other artists may deconstruct the body simply as a way of analyzing it objectively, as a structure rather than a defined being. An unusual presentation of the body causes us to examine it from an unbiased perspective – as a composition, rather than a recognizable form. As stated by photographer Bill Durgin, “I want the bodies to be recognized as bodies, but also to be detached from common perceptions of the figure. Bound within each singular view, the uncanny figures convey the body as both abject and marvelous.” Durgin’s models are contorted so as to appear that they are not complete bodies, but masses of flesh, simultaneously grotesque and graceful.
The artists represented in “Part & Parcel” are united in their use of bodily fragmentation to investigate the role of women in modern society. Fragmentation is a versatile tool in visual art, as it allows us to simultaneously see the human body in a more focused manner, and to step back from it and view the body as an abstract form – it can lead to reactions ranging from analytical to emotional. While interpretations are individual to both artist and viewer, “Part & Parcel” undoubtedly inspires us to think about the body in novel ways.
The exhibition features an impressive roster of artists including Fanny Allié, Tom Bartel, Laara Cassells, Niina Cochran, Bill Durgin, Irene Gennaro, Jo Hamilton, Frances Heinrich, Gina Lucia, Vincent Minervini, Judy Moonelis, Lindsey Muscato, Deborah Pohl, Carol Schwartz, Etta Winigrad, and Jane Zweibel. This diverse group of artists hails from cities across New Jersey, New York City and its boroughs, and as far as Ohio, Oregon, Portugal, and Canada.
For more information on the exhibition or gallery, call 732-381-7511 or visit www.partandparcelexhibition.wordpress.com, or www.agnj.org. A full-color exhibition catalog for the exhibition will be available at the Arts Guild during and following the opening reception.