Threadbare and Tarnished: Tales from a Gilded Age, 2017
Site Specific Installation at Glen Foerd Historic Mansion, Philadelphia
This site specific installation delves into themes of class and gentility, as well as accumulation and deterioration, to explore the history and legacy of the Gilded Age. The piece takes inspiration from the contrasting elements of Glen Foerd: its Gilded Age motifs and opulent objects, combined with the evidence of hoarding and deterioration revealed behind the scenes. The central element of the installation is a gilded wallpaper pattern which peels off to reveal a texture of mud beneath, suggesting alternate views of the house over time.
The gold veneer of the wallpaper pattern references the title of the novel “The Gilded Age, A Tale of Today” coined by Mark Twain and Charlles Dudley Warner. The phrase ironically highlighted the thin layer of gold which concealed the persistent problems of poverty, inequality, and corruption of the era.
Adorning the wallpaper is a series of framed cut paper pieces combining references to the painted silhouettes in the Mansion with images of poverty from the Gilded Age. As the deterioration and entropy of the wallpaper increases, so does the absurdity of the poses in the cut paper pieces. The children in the images are forced into ever more impossible poses, carrying each other’s burdens and piling atop one another, while being ignored or actively suppressed by the genteel silhouettes.
The themes of accumulation (or hoarding) and deterioration are echoed in two sculptural vignettes. An awkwardly balanced chair seems to sink into the floor, while equally precarious stacks of china from the Mansion’s collection provide a towering counterpoint.
Site Specific installation at Morris-Jumel Mansion, New York City
Located at the top of Manhattan in Washington Heights, the Morris-Jumel Mansion was surrounded by forest, marshes, and farmland when it was built in 1765. The majority of the population of Manhattan resided in the small corner at the bottom of the island. By 1865, when the last resident Eliza Jumel died, the city grid had traveled up Manhattan and reached the house, and the neighborhood was undergoing urbanization.
In the site-specific installation, Passage, the transformation of this landscape is explored through the juxtaposition of a grid-based design, with flora and fauna that existed in the area before it was urbanized. The installation appropriates the motifs in historic and existing wallpaper and carpets from the home, as well as period styles, to describe the changes in the landscape surrounding the house over time.
The installation consists of two related pieces, a mural in the main stairway, and a floor-based installation in Aaron Burr’s bedroom on the second floor of the house. In the mural, a motif from the hallway wallpaper on the first floor is transformed into a design referencing the growing city grid in Manhattan in 1832, the era of the Aaron Burr Room. As the viewer moves up to the second floor, the mural reflects a progression back in time, with the grid dissipating and the natural motifs dominating.
The flora and fauna motifs in the mural both reference, and directly borrow from, the wallpapers in the house, including the chinoiserie paper, the morning glory paper, and the grape leaf pattern from the Burr Room. Birds and other fauna have been painted by the artist in the chinoiserie style. The most predominant birds in the mural are the passenger pigeon, which were also the most prolific bird on the continent and in the area when the house was built. By the time the city grid had reached the house in the late 1860s, the number of passenger pigeons had decreased drastically, and by 1914 the bird became extinct.
The piece in Aaron Burr’s bedroom transports the viewer to 1832, portraying a wild, garden-like space suggestive of the area of upper Manhattan during the time that it was inhabited. The piece also uses existing motifs, this time solely from the room itself, including the grape leaves in the wallpaper, and the rose motifs in the carpet. The grape leaves appear to grow off of the lattice pattern in the wallpaper, covering the furniture, weaving among the roses of the carpet, while erasing suggestions of the grid from the design.
Whistling Thorn, 2013-14
Emerging from the ceiling is a wallpaper installation entitled, “Whistling Thorn.” The piece plays off the ambiguous sense of time in the prints, positioning nature encroaching into the gallery space. At the same time, the piece suggests the possibility of a more sustainable symbiosis than what is depicted in the prints. The spiky pods that grow on the brambles are inspired by the whistling thorn acacia tree, which grows pods for the sole purpose of feeding ants which live on the tree. In turn, the ants protect the tree from elephants and other animals that would otherwise cause its destruction.
Installations from Ruination at Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia, PA and Precarious Balance at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
Composition/Recomposition is an installation of wallpaper that is inhabited by a colony of weaver ants. The piece looks at our relationship to the natural world, and our vain attempts to impose order on it. We set ourselves apart from the chaos of nature, but at the same time cannot escape it.
For me, ants are the perfect union of beauty, disorder, and organization. Ants are not generally considered to be beautiful, yet weaver ants in particular create lacey, intricate chains and towers with their bodies to create their nests. While superficially, they could not seem more different from us, they actually create highly organized societies for themselves, in many ways much like ours. I love the interplay between our visceral reactions to ants – the sense of chaos and disorder that they impose on our homes and interior spaces – and the highly organized societies that they actually construct for themselves.
Installation views: Listening In Philadelphia Artists Speak, Abington Art Center, Abington, PA (Image 2) and Notched Bodies, Arsenal Gallery, New York, NY (Image 3).
Cross Pollination, 2012-13
Wallpaper installations at Moss Art Center, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA and The Print Center, Philadelphia, PA
The installation, Cross-Pollination (II), questions our assumptions about the disorder of nature and the sterility of human bodies and spaces, finding whimsy, design, and beauty among the apparent chaos. Bees emerge from vents and pipes in the gallery space, dismantling the filigree pattern to interpose their own structure on the walls, yet periodically also coming to rest within the geometry of the pattern. The pattern, honeycomb, and bees, are all composed of the same natural detritus - dried flower stems and stamen, bug parts, and human hair.
The altered photographs in the room suggest a similar story happening outside the walls of the gallery, further blurring the lines between outside and in, chaos and order, but also history and present. The grouping of photographs brings together images of Victorians with 19th century images of Arabs and North African landscapes. Insects and other natural detritus consume the faces and bodies of the sitters, transforming their hair into chaotic swarms, or subsuming surrounding spaces. The swarms and drifts point to the relationship between chaos and design in nature, but also become metaphors for expressing that same balance between order and entropy within our own bodies.
Entropy Filigree (I), 2006.
Site Specific Installation at the Katzen Center, American University
In Entropy Filigree, random wisps of hair, withered stems, and bug parts are transformed from floor sweepings into an intricate and seductive wallpaper pattern. The piece reflects my interest in exploring dichotomies surrounding aesthetics and the body by drawing them closer together, finding sensuality in abjection, decoration in waste, and design in entropy.
In this site-specific installation at the American University Museum, a previously unconsidered, utilitarian space is transformed by highly decorative wallpaper, and by signs that highlight the sensuality of the body in a very public manner. A viewer looking for the toilet will be informed, not by the usual oblique word stating “men,” “women,” or even “restroom,” but with silhouettes of naked figures, acting out what might take place behind the doors. Private gestures such as a woman squatting as if to urinate are unabashedly exposed. Public gestures such as a woman sweeping or talking on the phone are rendered absurd.
The juxtaposition between the function and alteration of the space blurs distinctions between public and private spaces, between hallowed art galleries and utilitarian corridors. This new place that people pass through, conducting the quotidian business of relieving themselves in the bathroom, washing hands, drinking from the water fountain, or rinsing out a mop, situates the sensual body in an unexpectedly personal and public context.
Faced with the image of a urinating figure before entering a bathroom, the viewer is forced to identify with this exposed sensuality, and a private experience is made public. The silhouettes depict commonplace actions and are decidedly unrevealing. Yet, they seem surprisingly frank, even within a museum where images of nude women, in particular, are commonplace. The suggestion of the exposed body in both men and women becomes ridiculous and almost embarrassing in this context.
This exploration of our discomfort with our bodies fits into the larger scope of my work, which explores our urge to contain or control our sensuality, as well as the natural processes, growths, protrusions, and eventual degradation that our bodies endure.
My focus on this repressive relationship to our bodies is rooted in my interest in Victorianism, and the reverberations of Victorian values on Contemporary American culture. Highlighting that influence, I situate this installation, as I do in much of my other work, in the context of both the 19th and 21st centuries. While the silhouettes reference the 19th century, the figures in this installation are unambiguously contemporary, from the hairstyles, to the woman on a cell phone with wires trailing beneath her. The Baroque inspired design, and the lacy hair that is the focal point of the wallpaper, also reference Victoriana. The juxtaposition between the Victorian use of hair to create decorative and symbolic mementos, and the contemporary repulsion with the same idea, points to the contradictions in how our relationship to our bodies have evolved since the 19th century.
Installation views: with Duane Hanson sculpture in foreground (Image 1), with signs for stairs and utility closet (Image 2), with signs for women's and men's restroom in (Image 3), detail (Image 4).