Works on empowerment, objectification in I Grit My Teeth Before It Began at Little Berlin
An exhibition at Little Berlin utilizes material to address the often uncomfortable nature of the relationship we have with our bodies, from the intimate to the medical and social.

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Shona McAndrew, “Charlotte." Photo by Laura Volkening
Shona McAndrew, “Charlotte.” Photo by Laura Volkening

Upon entering Little Berlin’s main gallery I once again don’t know what to do with myself at an art opening, and as usual, I use the art to engage with the show instead of the people or crowd. The first thing I come face to face with is “Charlotte,” a papier-mached topless bather created by Shona McAndrew. The figure’s towel looks like a small shag rug next to her larger than life proportions. Her skin features inconsistent lumps with the texture of the paper and glue she is made of. I step down to examine her further and realize I am now deflecting my personal discomfort upon entering the gallery onto Charlotte. She and her companions, made by McAndrew, range in size and position, yet they all represent in their poses and style an unashamed, unabashed and unapologetic vision of themselves.

These empowered females take my objectification of their forms as art, and radiate back their singularity as if they are humans in the space. Who am I to look at them so intently? Even if they are just objects, what gives me the right to objectify these figures?

Uncomfortable forms evoke intimacy and the body

Caitlin Cocco’s wall installation. Photo by Laura Volkening
Caitlin Cocco’s wall installation. Photo by Laura Volkening

Directly across from Charlotte is Caitlin Cocco’s wall installation. A large beige plastic paint skin hangs down from the wall and covers the floor, constantly being stepped on by onlookers. A plush and lumpy pink sculpture sits on top of the plastic pelt. A few brave attendees stick their hands into the sculpture’s several orifices to feel the innards of this pink mystery object. I am too uncomfortable to try, still feeling the ramifications of my gaze upon the work, and instead prefer to give the art more space than myself out of respect for them. Cocco’s wall also features other sculptural objects. They evoke intimate and possibly uncomfortable moments with the body — things of a sexual or medical nature. The use of plastic creates an odd sterility set off by the pink glow and painted wall.

Loren Erdrich’s paintings and reference photos. Photo by Laura Volkening
Loren Erdrich’s paintings and reference photos. Photo by Laura Volkening

Loren Erdrich’s paintings and reference photos sprawl across a nearby wall’s width and height. The photos are intimate and from her own life. The watercolor paintings of figures caught in self-inspection and sexual acts appear as if they could still be wet. The vivid pigment choice seems unnatural or unrealistic yet somehow still captures the horror and humor of the figures. Growing even more anxious and caught in yet another voyeuristic act, I’m thankful to be less exposed than these figures and remind myself it’s just art.

Visceral use of material highlights objectification

Foreground: work by Shona McAndrew, Background: work by Grace Kubilius. Photo by Laura Volkening
Foreground: work by Shona McAndrew, Background: work by Grace Kubilius. Photo by Laura Volkening

I try to digest the work and my feelings while watching a video by Grace Kubilius and taking in Rebecca Ott’s weavings. Each work brings in a new set of materials to the same set of questions surrounding the objectification of bodies ranging from medical and sexual to the banal. The curatorial choice by Eric Anthony Berdis to title the show I Grit My Teeth Before It Began truly captures the phenomena presented by the work. Bodily process seem to get amplified in the show just like my own nerves from attending an opening. Even weaving everyday objects into a tapestry as Kubilius does gets heightened with her use of small found objects from either medical supplies or home appliances, and forces someone like myself to acknowledge their own anxieties surrounding the body. If I can’t make myself feel comfortable around an inanimate object, even if it is a well crafted art work stirring all these emotions up in me, what hope do I have? I guess I’ll have to take the words of advice by the curator to grit my teeth and bear it, because the techniques used by each of the artists in the show are just too well crafted not to keep looking. I can’t help but feel like this show is calling attention to the uncomfortable or foreign, and advocates instead for embracement of these interactions and feelings. I find myself hoping the memory of the show stays with me long enough to affect how I handle myself when I’m cat called, facing an uncouth sexual joke, or even the next visit to my doctor, because everyone feels just a little weird in a paper robe.

I Grit My Teeth Before It Began is up at Little Berlin, 72430 Coral St, until June 29th. See gallery link for hours.

Tags

Caitlin Cocco, Grace Kubilius, little berlin, Loren Erdrich, philadelphia, Rebecca Ott, Shona McAndrew

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