1 in 8
The current show at Never Ender Gallery, 1 in 8, is a collection of new work by local women artists. The title refers to the rather frightening statistic of breast cancer occurrence. The original call for submissions didn’t stipulate any specific subject matter, but because of the show’s title and the fact that a large portion of profits generated from art sales will be going to the cancer charity Moms on the Run, some themes emerged: breast cancer, feminine strength, womanhood. One patron I talked to called it a “chick show.”
Many of the pieces are explicitly female: plenty of images of women, breasts, lots of pink. Elizabeth Manning’s “We Can Do It With Courage,” is a stylized update of the iconic WWII working woman poster of Rosie the Riveter. Jolene Adams’ photographs, with titles like “Dahlia” and “Begonia,” are extreme close-ups of floral orifices. “The Body Project Women Part 2,” by Toni Marie LaMorte, is a series of portraits of female bodies broken up into small rectangular photographs that isolate and highlight specific body parts.
The problem is that all these traditional (and predictable) images of femininity lose power in such close proximity to each other. The images and ideas are weakened by their repetition. Many of these pieces seemed tailored to the show—pieces “about” breast cancer and female perseverance.
The more successful pieces move away from these expected images of femininity. “Towers,” a mixed media piece by Christine Karkow, combines photocopied images of power lines with thick, painterly surfaces and dynamic graphite marks. The content might be abstruse, but the paint and mark-making provoke a pleasurable visual response.
“Sticks and Stones” by Christina Hansford is a collection of handcrafted rings made of actual sticks and stones found around Lake Tahoe. It’s interesting because it’s gallery art that you can walk away with on your finger for a paltry $5. It’s jewelry, an object of luxury, but made with natural objects taken straight off the ground.
Both “Towers” and “Sticks and Stones” forge connections to landscapes. So does Clara Fisher’s “Two Women, One Arid Landscape,” a digital image of a desert landscape. Two women standing side by side are almost imperceptible in one corner.
“The title makes the piece,” says Fisher. “The arid landscape connects to these women, who are post-menopausal. Femininity doesn’t have to be about fertility. The piece is about a more rugged, survivalist kind of feminine. And depictions of femininity don’t have to be literal—like nude bodies. They can be more figurative.”
A more literal approach can also yield successful results. Gallery owner and curator Amber Gutry’s piece, “1 in 8,” addresses the issue of breast cancer explicitly to good effect. CT scans of a woman with breast cancer are highlighted rather starkly by a light box. It’s a piece provoked by a personal reaction; the CT scans are of her mother.
Guntry’s piece, because of its personal nature, effectively addresses the themes of womanhood and breast cancer. However, it can be problematic anytime artwork is subservient to any cause, no matter how important the cause—and raising money to battle breast cancer is certainly a good cause. But when art is “about” a cause, it can too easily seem contrived or clichéd. Some of the most exciting pieces are those that move away from breasts and flowers and discover the feminine in unexpected places: sticks, stones, desert sand and power lines.