Choose Your Weapon
A pile of huge corsage pins are heaped on the floor as if thrown there by a giant, fed-up seamstress. Their pastel, ceramic heads (larger than human ones) are attached to a sharp aluminum rod—the things could be used as assault weapons.
That’s artist Melissa Haviland’s intention with her exhibit Choose Your Weapon, now showing at the main gallery at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Haviland says her work is about evaluating decisions and choosing roles in life, as well as “the underlying frustrations and obsessions in these prescribed roles.” Stark, black-and-white charcoal drawings hung about the gallery further elaborate that concept.
In the exhibit’s title piece, a bare-breasted woman sits at a table littered with household objects. There are scissors, makeup, a tea infuser, an almost empty jar of pins, tweezers, a corkscrew, potato masher, clothes hanger, a cell phone, a honey dipper. The woman looks directly and sternly at the viewer. Her hair is swept up, one elbow propped on the table, her palm turned upward as though ready to choose one of the objects displayed before her—her weapon.
Haviland, an art professor at Ohio University, began the Choose Your Weapon project with this piece, which she began drawing when she first started teaching full-time. It was inspired by her insecurities about choosing to teach. “It’s vulnerable, teaching,” says Haviland. “It’s like a performance. A lot of the reason of using the nude figure was that vulnerability—the idea of ‘Did I choose the right path? Of all the roles I could choose, is this the right one?'”
A seamstress herself and an “obsessive” collector of kitchenware, Haviland became more interested in how we use everyday objects to arm ourselves and our fragile identities.
In “Ready for Battle (Platter),” the naked torso of a woman is covered with a large white platter sprinkled with flower designs and outlined with fluted edges. It’s tied to the woman with a big, festive bow. A string of fat pearls is strung around her neck. The woman’s arms are firmly at her sides, like a soldier’s. A companion piece, “Ready for Battle (Hankie),” substitutes the platter with an embroidered handkerchief held between her fingers.
Haviland says these pieces were inspired by an Alice in Wonderland image of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, who start fighting and tie their entire kitchen to their bodies. “That is what we protect ourselves with—this costume we wear everyday and these things we have,” she says.
At first view, it appears the work is saying domesticity is killing the soul of women, and these objects are the weapons used in the war of the sexes. They’re tools used against women to control them, as well as survival tools women use against men—by setting a perfect table of fine bone china, by being a “perfect” woman, by having knock-out legs (see “Secret Weapon #4"), women may get what they want.
“A lot of the imagery I use is specifically feminine because I’m often evaluating my role as a woman,” says Haviland. But she says this exhibit is less about feminism and more about how people (men, too) use objects to define themselves, as well as cover up their vulnerabilities.