Cherries: "What Are Little Girls Made Of"

Lauren Granado is a longtime RedLine member, supporter, and volunteer. She is a self proclaimed "local Latina nerd" who investigates reality through art, literature, and music. She is currently working on embodying and promoting brown girl love through artistic expression and writing. The following contemplative and observational piece was inspired by a friend who was working with conceptual sculpture and environment installations (Granado's two favorite mediums) to explore femininity and the binary structures that restrict women and femme-identifying people. Granado thanks Kristyn Shafer for her work.

This piece was originally published in Metrosphere Arts & Literary Magazine, Volume 34, issue 1, on Nov 19, 2015 and is republished here with permission of Granado.

Shafer, Kristyn. What are little girls made of. 2015. All photos courtesy of the artist.

Shafer, Kristyn. What are little girls made of. 2015. All photos courtesy of the artist.

The abhorrent ooze of melted cherries placed in an eloquent porcelain vanity paradoxically urges the viewer to look closer, perhaps even smell the delectables in front of them, despite the provocative and vile resemblance to menstruation blood.

Kristyn Shafer is spatial media artist working and living in Denver, Colorado. Her work consists of breaking down ideas about femininity, scopophobia, lost identities, and the persistent fear of being seen or stared at, through her sculptural work. She confronts female issues that young women today find relatable. Her work is grounded in the concept of the female situation, which for Shafer is a descriptive term for her experience as an objectified woman in society. She explains her work as “gently macabre” because it is somewhat familiar to the viewer, but also eerily disturbing and uncanny.

She intends her sculptural work to involve the viewer in more than just a visual experience. She wants to create connections between objects and notions of identity. Her work highlights taboo subjects, such as menstruation, scopophilia (sexual pleasure obtained from looking, especially at erotic objects), and feelings of shame. In her installation What Are Little Girls Made Of, she uses porcelain, a lace doily, a mirror, cherries, wax, nylon, and cement. This amalgamation of materials brings together seemingly disconnected objects and creates a tactile element to reveal a narrative of womanhood.

The cherries are a deep, burgundy red that allude to menstruation blood, but are still inviting and enticing to the viewer. They are poignantly placed within a delicate porcelain vanity set that has the words “What Are Little Girls Made Of” as an inscription on the plate. The visual of the porcelain set evokes feelings of nostalgia and associations with femininity, while juxtaposing the gooeyness of the cherries with menstruation. This object placement creates a direct dialogue about her concept of the female situation.

There are historical expectations of womanhood that are deeply rooted in our patriarchal society, including the clandestine nature of menstruation. The work wrestles with the shame felt by the slightest allusion to menstruation, which is an essential element to womanhood. The aesthetically pleasing qualities of the porcelain vanity set atop the lace doily are appealing to the viewer, and once they are engaged, the cherries and their representation can be repulsive and may even bring about feelings of disgust in the viewer.

This is exactly where the power in Shafer’s work lies. Her ability to subtly integrate the quintessential imagery of femininity with one of society’s most forbidden taboos creates a multi-sensory experience, rather than just a visual participation. This connection begins to break down the boundaries between art and life.

Shafer describes how misogynistic encounters with catcallers and degrading strangers commenting on her physical appearance has fueled the creative fire that propels her work. As inspiration, she utilizes “the psychological damage that happens because of [the focus on her physical appearance] and being catcalled because people say insane things sometimes, and they’re very demeaning, and you’re just supposed to accept it and move on and take it as a compliment.” Shafer discusses and scrutinizes the violent act against females by the male prerogative and gaze. Through the materiality of her work she is able to literally dig further to understand these constructs, and to push the corporeal realization of her theorized observations.

Shafer delves further into this idea with the inclusion of a cast of her face covered in pineapple chunks on the floor of the installation. There is a sense of an abruptly violent act against the face, which is the physical embodiment of her identity.

Shafer, Kristyn. What are little girls made of. 2015. All photos courtesy of the artist.

Shafer, Kristyn. What are little girls made of. 2015. All photos courtesy of the artist.

She explains this element as a visual manifestation of the verbal assault of catcalling and the privileged male authority to view the female as an object without repercussions in society. The pineapple also has interesting evocations with colonialism and the conquering of one’s body and cultural identity. The lack of a nose is indicative of suffocation, or a being without agency.

As the viewer continues to examine the connections between the other objects, they will notice the Castration piece that is included in the series What Are Little Girls Made Of. The piece consists of wax, nylon, and cement. The use of industrial materials lends to the conceptual weight of the work in that it references the weight of society that is placed on young women, starting at a very young age.

The omnipresent pressure to conform one’s body and physical appearance to the canonized standard of beauty is a pervasive problem for young girls. The nomenclature of castration or torture is effective in influencing the viewer’s reception of the work as a reference to social issues. This title provides a precedent of severity in understanding the work and its concrete associations with issues of body shaming, sometimes resulting in body modification, or even body mutilation, along with self-loathing.

The work makes compelling connections about current issues within political, social, feminist, and artistic contexts. The scope is quite large, but Shafer creates an environment that discreetly addresses a multitude of issues with a unified conceptual foundation from the female perspective. Shafer explains how she has been influenced by and is art historically connected with theories of the abject: “I think for me, abject is probably the most freeing, that you could make something that is [both] gross and yourself, and talk about these issues in a way that is still true to what they are and not putting in too much fluff.”

Shafer, Kristyn. What are little girls made of. 2015. All photos courtesy of the artist.

Shafer, Kristyn. What are little girls made of. 2015. All photos courtesy of the artist.

Artistically, Shafer has evolved along with her understanding of her visual and theoretical influences. She works closely with Tsehai Johnson, a sculpture professor at MSU Denver, to develop her ideas and to push her artistic practice. Her work is becoming more visually striking as the connections between her intended meanings and the physical manifestations become more closely related. She is pushing herself to understand material, color, and form, but also the relationships between objects. All of these tools are meant to bind her work to a conceptual realm.

When engaging with her work, Shafer wants the viewer to take away the value of a moment of contemplation. Shafer hopes viewers take a  moment to consider what it is to be a woman, a female, a girl, and the effects of those binaristic definitions.

Her work is meant to be a disturbing and jarring realization that leads to desensitization and then potentially a dialogue concerning female issues and the hidden taboos of the female body.

Shafer, Kristyn. What are little girls made of. 2015. All photos courtesy of the artist.

Shafer, Kristyn. What are little girls made of. 2015. All photos courtesy of the artist.

When speaking on the reception of her work by a viewer, Shafer states: “I want them to see my work. I want it to kind of gross them out enough. I want it to confront them enough, freak them out, make them really uncomfortable, so the next time they encounter something like seeing these nasty, melty, mucus cherries, I want that to gross you out and make you think about it enough, so the next time, maybe you’re in the bathroom and you see a tampon, it’s not so scary.”

hey, America

Allie Beckmann is a RedLine volunteer who has been studying and working in the creative and performing arts for more than a decade. She received her formal education in Theater Arts with an emphasis in performance, directing, and sociological research.  She has been studying, practicing, and teaching yoga and meditation all while traveling the country and the world as an explorer and a facilitator. She also loves dogs. The following piece is motivated by the current state of our nation and the author's wish for a more kind and loving nation.

hey, America

be kind.

hey, America

don’t hate.

hey, America

slow down.

hey, America.

take a break.

take a listen.

take a breath.

and choose love

over hate.

compassion

over envy

forgiveness

over blame.

Because in our hearts

We are all the same

we all feel love

and we all feel shame

we all laugh and cry and fart and scream

and we all suffer brain freeze after too much ice cream.

 

But from our common denominators

We have strayed far too far

We’ve let our differences divide us –

They hold hostage our hearts

And it’s the lack of love that’s keeping us apart

So let us start to mend these broken parts

by lending our hearts

to ourselves

to each other

lend a hand

lend an ear

lend a smile

lend a year

give your Self

and share your heart

because we are all

taking part

in this wonderful maze

that we call life

So let’s learn to listen to one another’s strife

No one is right

No one is wrong

We are all right

We are all wrong

And no matter who the president may be

Our hearts will always and forever be free

and we can choose to stay kind

and we can choose to live love

and we can choose

to stand together

and rise above

so one more time,

bear with me,

I must plea

to be kind to one another

and don’t wreck one another

don't correct one another

and don't reject one another

because i am interjecting with the utmost respect

and pleading with my open heart,

bleeding from my open heart

in joyous exertion

ever full

and beckoning

that you open yours, too,

that we delight in the shared-ness

of this life long experience

the collective journey

of the individual experiment

feeling pleasure,

feeling pain

feeling all,

and knowing all,

supporting all,

accepting all

and choosing to live in love

in love

in love

in love

with love,

 

your humble citizen.

Thinking Out Loud About Art & Politics

Jayne Butler is a RedLine volunteer and a local artist who makes art with technology. It's often playful, it usually has crafty elements, and sometimes talks about feminism. She is currently working towards her MFA in Emergent Digital Practices at the University of Denver. The following blog piece was inspired by the 2016 election and the fear & anxiety that it has induced. 

WARNING: If you are visiting Along the Line to escape the political turmoil that has engulfed your news, your social media, and your country, you will not find a break here. As I sat down to brainstorm what to contribute to this forum I couldn’t find anything more pressing or more meaningful happening in our community and our lives more pressing than the current political climate. Like so many of us across the country, I’m disappointed. I’m scared. I’m confused. I keep asking myself the same question: what can I do? Protesting, donating, and calling my representatives are immediate actions that come to mind, but what, more specifically, can I do as an artist? In our Denver creative community, what can WE do as artists? Unlike professionals in law or social work, our role doesn’t feel as obvious or cut and dry. How do we contribute with our craft and our passions? Should we have a political artistic agenda?

Recently, I was speaking with some friends and fellow artists about “political art” and what our art practices mean in this contemporary moment. Should there be a shift in focus or is the political always inherent in artistic work? On one hand, you can argue that art is political by nature. Art is social and social entities imply society and society implies politics. Political art might as well be a redundancy. I think of a quote by Ai Wei Wei that states, “I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention.” In this way, our art practices are a form of resistance. On the other hand, art can be viewed as a form of beauty separate from our political being. Can we place the value of political art higher than an art form that addresses our emotions differently or separately? Many view art enriched with aesthetic beauty as an escape. Can’t art help us escape this turmoil even for a moment? Don’t we deserve vehicles to feel emotions other than those fueled by our political landscape? Isn’t art the essential vehicle?

Right now, I am meditating on these ideas and in-reality there are hundreds of different ways to view art, its role in life, and in politics. It’s important for me to think about my practice as it relates to my environment and constantly assess my viewpoint as an artist and my role in my community. The only conclusion I can come to is that while I experience a shift in my world, I feel a shift in my practice. I want to empower my community as best I can and I know I need to keep making and making and making. I write this post not in an attempt to definitively answer any of the questions posed nor do I think there is one grand answer. I am writing to enlist your help (whether that be an opinion or otherwise) and share my vulnerability as an artist and ally. Let’s talk, let’s think, and let’s work together.

Permit Us To Doubt: On the Civic Duty of Artists

Megan Gafford is RedLine resident and a multi-disciplinary artist who is deeply concerned with existential questions about life and death, and everything in between. Her latest site-specific titled Hemisphere, will be on view at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) March 7 - April 2. This article was originally posted on Gafford’s blog on on January 31, 2017.

It is two and a half minutes until midnight.  On the stroke of twelve, the world will be broken, and everything will be as it has never been before.  Each year scientists wind the Doomsday Clock, hoping that the sound of its ticking might make us recall the better angels of our nature.  Manhattan Project physicists formed the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and created the clock in 1947 because they “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work.”  In 1953 they set the time at two minutes ‘til, after the U.S. tested the first hydrogen bomb; this was the closest the minute hand has ever been to midnight, and today it is the closest since that year.

Retired U.S. Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, remembered by colleagues for his great calmness, warned in the first week of 2017 that, “We are starting a new Cold War.  We seem to be sleepwalking into this new nuclear arms race.”  In the 2017 Doomsday Clock Statement, the Bulletin wrote that it,

...has decided to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes and 30 seconds to midnight. The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute—something it has never before done— reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days... even though he has just now taken office, the president’s intemperate statements, lack of openness to expert advice, and questionable cabinet nominations have already made a bad international security situation worse.

Trump’s rise to power is a stress test for US democracy.  The Great American Experiment tries out the idea that people should be free to govern themselves in pursuit of happiness.  It is humanity’s longest-running democratic experiment, and democracies are extraordinary systems – if for no other reason than because they never wage war on other democracies.  This cannot be said for any other kind of society.  In a warming world full of nuclear weapons democracy is obligatory for survival, therefore Americans have a duty, not just to their fellow citizens but to the world, to keep the experiment running.

But how?  In the words of Richard Feynman, one of the Manhattan Project physicists, “If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”  He reflected that:

[Scientists] have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize the ignorance and leave room for doubt.  This is not a new idea; this is the idea of the age of reason.  This is the philosophy that guided the men who made the democracy that we live under.  The idea that no one really knew how to run a government led to the idea that we should arrange a... trial and error system.  Even then it was clear to socially-minded people that the openness of the possibilities was an opportunity, and that doubt and discussion were essential to progress into the unknown.

This idea is what made the American Revolution so revolutionary.  The unknown is such an uncomfortable place to rest that all of human history describes the deadly clashing of ideologies, each equally and incompatibly sure of itself.  Feynman’s advice seems simple – permit us to doubt – but it is an affront to the heuristics of human nature.  Everyone has groaned at the Sisyphean task of trying to change another person’s mind, and decades of research about cognition testify to the tenacity of this deadlock.   At this late hour, certainty is a seductive yet treacherous bedfellow.

Truth atrophies in every kind of dogma, because it threatens established opinions so that people too sure of themselves tend to lash out at the way things really are.  As Trump intimidates the press and offers “alternative facts”, American citizens must question not only his lies but their own misconceptions.  Confronting false certainties from within will be the greater challenge.  This kind of soul-searching demands an appreciation for dissent, which is no small task.  Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University who studies political civility, described the difficulty in a lecture he gave in London just a couple weeks after Trump was elected,

My favorite philosopher is John Stuart Mill, and one of his lines is, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that,” and this is what I think we need to understand about ourselves.  Human nature is really unsuited for life in large, multi-ethnic democracies.  We’re a small, tribal-living primate, and somehow we’ve created conditions where we can actually do it pretty well, but we have to always be vigilant that we are, in a way, living above our design constraints.  We need to recognize that the urgent need of the 21st century is to really think through democracy, governance, and morality.

Everyone has a civic duty to become more comfortable with ambiguity.  The success of every democratic experiment depends on it.  Right now, the US is fractured along partisan lines, repeating the tired human tale of ideological discord.  In 2014, the Pew Research Center published results about political polarization from its largest survey on domestic politics to date.  Of particular concern, the center pointed out that most Democrats and Republicans are afraid of the other party.

This polarization antagonizes the pursuit of knowledge.  If people are too afraid or angry to consider ideas they loathe, then the healthy debate necessary for democracy deteriorates.  Finding value in dissent enables people to discover better solutions to complex problems.  Opposing perspectives can strengthen each other like interlocking reeds woven into a basket, the perpendicular fibers coming together to bear heavy loads that would snap unwound material.  And herein lies a clarion call for artists:

Creation takes place in the unknown.  Anything new, by its nature of being a thing unprecedented, comes from previously unexplored territory.  Even if the new thing is familiar knowledge updated, it is invariably discovered by an explorer who pushed past former limits.  Artists become comfortable with ambiguity so that they can create.  In turn, their creations may entice others to enjoy uncertainty.

Contemporary luminary Rebecca Solnit wrote in A Field Guide for Getting Lost that,

It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophecies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from...  Scientists, too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, “live always at the ‘edge of mystery’ – the boundary of the unknown.”  But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.

The civic duty of artists is to get people out into the dark sea.  Like a parent coaxing a child into the deep end of a pool, artwork can extend a sure and safe guiding hand.  Such support is invaluable kindness at a historic moment when humanity must master its nature before time runs out.  Art can demonstrate that the unknown holds hope as well as anxiety, so that every trembling heart that gazes into its haze peers at new possibilities.  In this way, artists are bulwarks of democracy.

Waiting for the Peripeteia

Eileen Roscina Richardson is a Denver-based artist and RedLine volunteer whose work focuses on environmental issues. In her own words, she seeks to “challenge the disconnection of our society from the land, and propose the path of progress as being behind us; reverting to a simpler way of life to move forward, going back to our roots, our land, our ancestors and family to answer challenging questions. And pose new ones.”

Here, Eileen presents her most recent artistic exploration of these themes.

peripeteia noun peri·pe·teia \ˌper-ə-pə-ˈtē-ə, -ˈtī-\

1. a sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances in our planet’s story

2. a quick fix, a shift in energy

In physics, the law of energy conservation states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant, meaning it is conserved over time. Energy is neither created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. The rugged individualism of our culture has cost our environment greatly over time; is it possible to shift our energy away from the self to the whole?

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see

Ahead, but looking back the very light

That blinded us shows us the way we came,

Along which blessings now appear, risen

As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,

By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward

The blessed light that yet to us is dark.

-Wendell Berry

 

Macro: Earth & Sun (e. roscina, 2016, burnt paper)

Macro: Earth & Sun (e. roscina, 2016, burnt paper)

Energy Transfer: Sun Begets Life

1,300,000 earths would fit inside our sun. One way forward is best illuminated by looking behind us. How can we live more simply and use the resources around us more mindfully? How can we maintain hope and keep working when the forecast is indeed quite dark?

----------------------------

Sound is sea: pattern lapping pattern

-Ronald Johnson

New Coast (e. roscina, 2016, burnt paper)

New Coast (e. roscina, 2016, burnt paper)

Energy Transfer: Scales Tilt to a New Normal

This is what the coast of the North American Continent would look like if the polar ice caps melted. The entire Atlantic seaboard, the Gulf Coast and the entire state of Florida would be underwater. San Francisco's hills would become a series of islands in a bay that would fill the Central Valley. Repeated patterns have an impact. Is this when our ambivalence will end?

----------------------------

I want to tell what the forests were like

I will have to speak in a forgotten language

-W.S. Merwin

Micro: A cross section of Sclerotium x 1000 (e. roscina, 2016, burnt paper)

Micro: A cross section of Sclerotium x 1000 (e. roscina, 2016, burnt paper)

Energy transfer: Survival

After a forest fire, mycelium (fungus) remain alive in the ground. Sclerotium are fungi food reserves that can remain dormant until favorable conditions return. The main role of Sclerotiumn is to survive environmental extremes. Where can we cut back and ration in our own lives before we reach the extreme? What are our reserves if the peripeteia we are waiting for and working towards doesn’t come?

----------------------------

“The green world is very mysterious. It’s absolutely

fascinating, and without it we wouldn’t exist.

People talk about the environment as though it

were something you could be interested in,

like having a stamp collection or something.

It’s not so.

If there’s no environment, there’s no us.”

-WS Merwin

Performance Art for Couples

RedLine Resident Esther Hernandez is an innovative performance-based artist whose work exists in that very compelling space between the real and the surreal. Her main focus is to “arrange groups of people to create parameters of engagement that explore love, connection, social norms, ritual, play and everything close to and in between. I want people to encounter themselves and others in a fresh way, whether it be through interactive performance art, an installation or both. I facilitate an experience in hopes that confrontation, self­ examination and/or intimacy can be reached.”

Here, Esther invites readers of Along the Line to participate in an ongoing series known as “Performance Art for Couples.”

Anybody is welcome to try this at home and send in pictures, photographs, videos, or share their experience in writing.

Here are the instructions...

  • Tie yourself to your partner and make a meal together.
  • Eat out of one dish.
  • Both torsos should be connected at the side including your two middle arms which cannot be used.
  • Your two inside legs should make a third leg.
  • Act as one person.

Esther tried this out herself, and here’s what happened:

We made a carrot, cabbage and garbanzo bean soup with a tomato based broth. In order to even walk a few steps we first had to communicate about how we wanted to move. That did not come naturally. The most challenging part was using our hands together like they were the hands of one person. Luckily, he is left handed and I am right handed and I think it made things a little easier but not much. When cutting the vegetables, I held the vegetable still and he chopped with the knife, I had to trust he wasn't going to cut me.

PerformaceArtforCouples

Since he is a chef and I am not, we both had to compromise on how to do things. Once we relaxed into it, got used to the constant communication, and established trust with each other, it became easier. After discussing our experience, we decided this was a great exercise in trust, communication, and compromise, which are the essentials for having a good relationship with anybody.

We will continue to document the evolution of this project. To reach Esther about “Performance Art for Couples” or any of her other projects, you can reach her via email estherhz<at>gmail<dot> com

Introducing Along the Line

Welcome! RedLine Contemporary Art Center is happy to introduce Along the Line, our new blog. Since the moment we first started talking about launching a blog, we have thought of it as a “portrait” of the eclectic, dynamic, creative, and diverse RedLine community.

Here you’ll find art criticism, reviews, interviews and studio visits, inspiration, influences, essays and reflections, creative work processes, and of course, a lot of art. Along the Line will be a virtual space in which conversations about art in relation to social responsibility, collective leadership, cultural responsiveness, and community engagement will flourish. In this curated but open space, we hope to have some fun, engage with local issues, reflect on the world beyond our doors, and document the work being done here at RedLine.

Along the Line is the result of the collective efforts by a group of dedicated artists, volunteers, and community advocates. We strive for content that inspires. Each of our brilliant contributors will bring their own perspectives, insights, and imaginations.

Thank you so much for reading and we look forward to engaging.