2x2 Collective - Ben Altman, Maria Driscoll McMahon, and Sandra Stephens, working at Gallery Aferro with Christine Heller - intersect their very different practices in representations of the figure. Their work explores stereotypes, public and private dynamics of power, and public participation. Gallery Aferro is an artist-run space in downtown Newark, NJ. The Quick Tour below gives an overview of the show. The individual pages show more of each artist's contribution to the installation.
From nameless nudes to portraits of monarchs, the figure in art has served to codify power. So have art objects, splitting viewer from viewed. In skin hides our work includes viewers as complicit participants, as centers of process and experience. We complicate and push against dichotomies and hierarchies: self/other, rural/urban, black/white, perpetrator/victim, family/stranger, performer/observer.
We are four artists who met through NYFA’s MARK program. We quickly found common ground in our disparate uses of the figure at intersections of the social/political/personal. We intermingled our very separate practices with the help of a 2-month residency at Sculpture Space, Utica, NY in January and February 2012. Our Gallery Aferro collaboration transforms and complicates the space within the gallery and, via video of performances and events, outside it.
photograph myself naked is to reveal and to hide, to assert myself and
be vulnerable. It sets pride against modesty. I inhabit polarized roles,
exploring empathy and complicity. For the images in skin hides I appropriated poses from recent Occupy demonstrations – pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, or arrested protesters, and squads of police.
recent naturalization as a citizen of the United States has sharpened
my attention to the freedoms and duties stressed the assertion of First Amendment rights.
Video and audio of my swearing-in ceremony form parts of the installation. The
red flash cards are adapted from question-and-answer study cards for the
naturalization civics test.
make the photographs in the domestic but hidden context of my
basement. To bring that home setting into the gallery the photographs
are installed in, and disrupt, a house-shaped volume outlined with pink
yarn. I gathered rocks in the back yard of my home. Much of the lumber
is from dismantled dwellings. The mirrors, however, were made in China.
“police” images are archival inkjet prints. The “demonstrator” images
are mostly hand-printed on heavy paper with precious Palladium and
Platinum metals. Each print is unique and often “imperfect”.
are invited to contribute to the installation by marking the
“demonstrator” images with thumb- or finger-prints, using one of the
MARIA DRISCOLL McMAHON
Skin hides in my multi-disciplinary work. Under burdocks, under clothing, under plaster, it hides. Within graphite and paper, light and pixels, all hides are revealed to be concealed.
Comedy and tragedy, passivity and aggression are the means by which we - artist, viewer, and person on the street - skin hides.
Some of my figures employ burdock burrs, not only as a most unlikely sculpting medium, but as muse and metaphor for selves on the fringe: refuted, abject, left to waste. Usually found growing in distressed soil in rural or urban wastelands, the burdock plant is most often felt before it is seen clinging to one's body like an unwanted crush or a needy acquaintance. It is the invisible made monstrous to confuse your eye, ravage your hair and lay waste your fine clothes.
There is, of course, a method to this mad attachment. By affixing to passersby, the opportunistic plant reproduces. Naked mammalian skin, however, is not the ideal dispersal vector; these burdocks-encased figures (including living ones) rather allude to a hirsute history - an “other” nature we prefer to forget: hidden skins/skin hides.
A sense of abjection and the aftermath of psychic violence pervades all my work: performance, sculpture, drawing and video. Always, I wear it - this exposed organ, this concealed wrapping - this itchy skin that hides the clothes like a fugitive.
Loss Silence Shadow Space
I grew up in a family where silence was always present – it had a persona and a presence – it took up space and was loud, crushing and spatial. It harbored anger, sadness and loss. It lived in shadows, in every corner and sometimes it submerged everything.
At Gallery Aferro, silent figures speak of loss and abuse. Limp cloth figures tangle in wire and mesh: airless, despairing and hopeless.
Huge painted shadow figures pursue and crowd 8-foot high figures drawn with charcoal. They suggest an ominous, subtle presence: internalized threats or present peril imposed by individuals or institutions who dominate, abuse or limit freedoms. Towards the front of the gallery the charcoal figures are drawn as active, aggressive, and dominant. At the rear of the gallery they reverberate with vulnerability, discouragement and perhaps hope.
I am fascinated by the construction and reconstruction of identity: internally by the self, from the outside by stereotypes and visual culture. These constructions constantly change, in a dialogue between the self and the outside world. I imagine this constructed self as a Möbius strip: the inside is the outside.
My video installations represent the integral connection between inner and outer worlds, in ways both serious and playful. In some I directly implicate the viewer, making him or her a part of the piece. In others I use image reversals to disrupt the viewer’s sense of the “other”. My visual spaces and language challenge audiences to connect in a deeper sense with identities that may seem unfamiliar or even alien.
Within the installations the act of viewing is an important aspect of the piece. Usually, the figure within the projected image is well aware of the viewer in the space. A conversation is implied that is further enhanced by confusing the real with the projected images.
For skin hides I have also worked with Maria Driscoll McMahon contributing and collaborating to work with/against the strong externalization of identity of Maria’s burdock-burr suits. We have moved beyond the gallery as Maria becomes “Burrtha” at museums, classrooms, shopping marts and in the streets of Newark.