You’ve got female
When looking at the work in Dominique Palladino’s current exhibition, H(i)erarchy, one immediately senses the performative aspect of the pieces. To the left of the gallery entrance, the viewer is confronted by a pile of shattered, bright orange, hard candy, surrounding the remainder of a translucent wall barely standing, as the sugar bricks warp in the heat coming from the sun shining through the window. To the right of the entrance, a chair sits next to a wooden table, on which there’s a small pitcher and bowl of wax. On the wall is an outline of a human form with a halo of nails and hair severed from the head. It’s evident that some action was performed here.
In her work, Palladino draws upon symbols, rituals and materials that reference religion and art—two spheres that, historically, are predominantly patriarchal. She often uses materials that contrast each other, in a way creating a dichotomy between two seemingly contradicting ideas.
“In general, we relate to everything in the male perspective,” says Palladino. “I was really interested in referencing the holy mother and any female deity—or lack thereof.”
The opening night of the exhibition, Palladino did a performance that included her grandmother and mother. Toward the end, Palladino stood in the outline of the human form drawn on the wall, while her mother stretched pieces of her hair up and around the halo of nails in radiating lines, securing them there with wax.
“I was being torn in all these different directions because of the actual physical tension that was created,” Palladino says, referring to having her hair pulled. “That energy to me is what really signifies how a woman functions and how she feels in our society.”
Visually, the work is seductive, but also plays with this idea of contradictions. Palladino’s use of materials like human hair and animal skins in conjunction with her formal presentation, creates a visceral reaction that is simultaneously repulsive and alluring. In “The Good Shepherd,” sheep’s wool in varying shades of brown and beige and approximately the height of a tall man exudes from the corner, taking the shape of a vagina. The rich textures draw you in, and yet it’s confrontational and overwhelming. In some cases, the simplified associations in the work can seem heavy-handed, albeit serving the artist’s purpose.
The far end of the gallery is occupied by a coven of identical brooms hanging from white satin ribbon. They dangle about six inches above the floor, which is covered in a layer of hair. In the midst of these hangs a stick broom that clearly stands out. The piece, titled “Faggot”—which originally referred to a bundle of sticks and was used as a derogatory term for women—comments on the idea of a cookie-cutter woman. The brooms are hung from the ceiling disabling them from performing their function. Palladino says that her work questions where the female exists within these hierarchies that we live with on a daily basis.
“Feminism isn’t about equality,” she says. “For me, it’s about bringing attention to how a woman functions in a male-dominated society. How do we find our bearings within that?”
Her exploration and intimacy with the materials don’t necessarily offer answers so much as it is thought provoking and deeply personal. Nor is it a complete rejection of the status quo. Take for instance the candy wall piece, “Penetration.” Palladino, after creating the wall, licked a hole through one of the bricks.
“It was really degrading but also rewarding in that breakthrough,” she says. “It’s like the walls and barriers I keep talking about. It’s fake and phony—not real and sturdy. It became empowering to use my sexuality to break through that.”