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samantha conlon | yukari nakamichi | leslie robison | sabina tupan
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March 24 – May 6, 2016
(extended till May 13, 2016)
t A d proudly presents hers; me as part of Outskirts: Bodies, Places, and Identities, a project initiated by t A d a year ago to bring together artists whose corpuses of work speak to the core of women in contemporary cultures and societies across the globe. Provocative and intimately engaging, the works by the four artists in this exhibition — Samantha Conlon, Yukari Nakamichi, Leslie Robison, and Sabina Tupan — bring back the very first knowledge that any woman has of a woman, echoing the powerful voice of American poet, essayist and feminist Adrienne Rich, who writes:
“Mothers and daughters have always exchanged with each other — beyond the verbally transmitted lore of female survival — a knowledge that is subliminal, subversive, preverbal: the knowledge flowing between two alike bodies, one of which has spent nine months inside the other.” emphasis added (1)
The three selected photographs by artist Samantha Conlon from her series, Daughters, affectionately capture the daughters’ first access to touch, sensuality, intimacy and sense of security. Not surprisingly, that comes from the mother, the female body. Their closeness is a mutual exchange between two alike bodies. In theology, sociology, psychoanalytic theory, art and film media, early years of mother-child relationship are considered critical to a child’s ability to make her/his mark on the world and find fulfillment in adult life. Yet, the focus is always on mothers and sons, while daughters are nullified by silence. With unconcealed maternal love, Daughters breaks that silence.
As grownups, we lost that corporeal closeness. Yet artist Yukari Nakamichi, along with many prolific poets and writers, honestly reminds us how our psyches still yearn to relive those days, to lay in mom’s lap, or even to re-enter her. Mom’s Skirt is Nakamichi’s sculptural installation of an aesthetically elegant and engulfingly over-sized ‘skirt’. It embodies the emotional comfort, protective care, and womb-state harmony that the inner child in us longs for. Mom’s Skirt also alludes to the eroticism in those feelings, feelings that are conceived in the warmth of a female body to begin with. Adrienne Rich affirms that for most grown women, those deep affinities with another female body are transferred to men, particularly in a compulsory heterosexual society. It is little wonder, therefore, that those intense feelings are often quietly missed, if not cruelly dismissed.
Is Mom’s Skirt also an entrapment? We may recall the anguish voice of Simone de Beauvoir, the mother of women’s movement, who sees mother-daughter relationship as a trap that holds back a young girl from progressing beyond the limited confines of existence prescribed by her mother’s generation. It may take a life-long struggle for autonomy to delineate, if at all possible, I’m hers and I’m me. That involves untangling the complex mother-daughter relationship that is muddled up with the institutionalized motherhood and gender relations.
The problematics of mother as a cultural construct and motherhood as an institution have been of concern to many feminist scholars, and evidently artist Leslie Robison as well. Her large-scale painting, entitled Moth, looks at mother as the subject of man-made language. It challenges mother as a construction within the ‘unchangeable’ structure of the Lacanian symbolic, trying to set it free from the patriarchal constraints.
Somehow the (moth / er) split in Robison’s painting incidentally brings to mind the idea of … giving birth. Here is how Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, and feminist Julia Kristeva describes: giving birth is “a strange form of split symbolization (threshold of language and instinctual drive, of the “symbolic” and the “semiotic”)”; it is also the only form of woman’s expression, one that breaks away from the symbolic patriarchal structure.(2)
The gestural drawing and writing on Moth are imbued with a kind of primal, and somewhat child-like, energy. As if, psychoanalytically speaking, they are akin to certain ‘psychical’ marks, charged with the drives that articulate what Kristeva calls chora. (3) Chora is pre-linguistic, analogous to gestural and vocal play (say “er..z..er..er“). It refers to a child at a development stage not yet formed into the subject of her/his own, still being one with the mother. From the linguistic viewpoint, chora is the necessary signification process prior to the forming of linguistic sign and signifier. It is endowed with birth-giving power to form a new symbolic. Thus, if we look at Moth through chora, we may see the painting embody mother and child as one, with the child part resolving to give birth to the mother — to re-write a new meaning for mother.
The final piece in this exhibition is a video work by artist Sabina Tupan, entitled Lostalgea. Tupan recounts and recreates a dialogue between her and her grandmother. It takes place in two locations: the decayed, staged reconstruction of the Romanian bedroom and the documentation taken of Mamaie (meaning grandmother in Romanian) at her home. The artist’s nostalgia for her lost homeland is encapsulated in the dialogue and the scenes. Homeland, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined in terms of native land, fatherland, country, and nation-state. But in Lostalgea, Tupan relocates the meaning to the grandmother’s home and injects it with matrilineal flesh and blood. Whilst, the power of (re)imagination speaks out, creating a space where, as Tupan describes, “the fear of losing each other is just a mere fantasy.”
1. Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New York: Norton, 1986, p.220.
2. Kristeva, Julia. “Motherhood According to Giovanni Bellini.” In Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980, p.240.
3. Kristeva, Julia. “Revolution in Poetic Language.” In The Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986, pp.89-136.
Written and curated by
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Samantha Conlon lives and works in Cork City, Ireland. She is also the creator and curator of Bunny Collective, an all female artist collective aiming to showcase the work of emerging artists from Ireland, Uk, United Arab Emirates and South Korea. Her work explores a girl-child first feelings of nourishment, tenderness, security, sensuality — a mutual intimacy between the daughter and her mother.
Yukari Nakamichi is a transnational visual artist who currently lives and works across New York, Dallas, and The Hague (Netherlands). Her acute awareness of differences and commonalities that exist between different places and cultures impels her to question presumptions, whether cognitive, cultural or social. She utilizes drawing, sculpture, photography, video, and installation in her extensive body of work.
Leslie Robison is an associate professor and the chairperson of the Department of Art & Design at Flagler College, Florida. Her work involves the use of mixed media drawing and performance as a mean of investigating and breaking down language, symbols, and actions that define various power relations, especially within the institutions of art and academia. Her work is not only critical but also questioning and self-mocking.
Sabina Tupan belongs to the young diasporic generation, a Romanian migrant living in the UK and a MFA graduate from Goldsmiths University of London. Her video works explore the effects of nostalgia on people living outside their homelands and the way in which they interact with the new culture. Her personal experiences are combined with the context surrounding the political complexity of Eastern European ambivalence towards engaging with Western culture.
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News article International Artistry: Exhibit portrays bonds between mothers and daughters, published by North Texas Daily on April 28, 2016.