Our lives are assembled by the elements of the familiar. This familiarity protects us with comfort, security and routine. In the Ann Arbor Art Center”s current exhibit, “In a Feminine Voice,” five female artists explore the intricate familiarity of the female experience. In a variety of media paint, collage, ceramics, textiles each artist brings a fresh voice and a daring investigation to the themes of womanhood.
The exhibit begins with Kate Roesch”s bold and colorful paintings: “Heat,” “Laces,” “Sweethearts” and “Grace.” Her work, constructed by a striking fusion of oranges, yellows, reds and blues, is seemingly geometric at their base. Strong lines and clear shapes are evident in all of her pieces. Combined with these linear strokes, however, are more familiar domestic presences.
“My forms refer to domestic objects such as bedding and nightgowns,” Roesch said. “I associate the forms with gender and sexuality. I am struck by the dichotomy that presents itself both formally and conceptually when I use these forms.”
In addition to the stunning artistry inherent in her paintings, Roesch has successfully scrutinized the instinctive associations of womanhood.
The second room of the gallery features the other four artists. Susanne Kilpela”s mixed-media abstract work expresses her struggle with the traditional relationships of women to their art. Her pieces a wire mattress pad with a ball of string on top, panty hose strung out and stuffed with onion-like bulbs suggest a different method of looking at the everyday. “My parents told me that I didn”t have to conform,” Kilpela said.
“Sometimes my life has been a struggle because I haven”t.”
Eunhee Im”s work looks at the forms we confidently inhabit. She investigates the essence of her subjects through their dwellings. She has constructed a variety of objects, made from wax and Asian paper and covered in Korean writing, that analyze this tension. “In my works, the essence of the human is characterized and shown with the particular garment shape or abstract form. The idiosyncratic form symbolize the shelter of the human body, and the human itself in space,” she said.
Her most striking piece, a series of miniature boats made from wax paper and held together by variety of other media, echoes with the stories we accumulate in those vessels used for traveling.
Patricia Mink”s linens are the most apparent example of the journey into domestic language and the exploration of the familiar. Her work, which includes variations on a quilt and a baby”s dress, all look at the progression of fabric as a symbol of our lives.
Her most effective piece, “Ironic,” is a three-by-three cream-colored quilt. Each patch of the quilt is stained by the brown form of an iron, but these stains have become the quilt”s apparent design, or pattern.
“I”m interested in developing an iconography that acknowledges the significance of the ordinary, the patterns of the everyday, and the comfort of the familiar,” she said. Her work expresses this clearly through its embroidered quilting squares and tainted fabric.
Meredith Ridi Kalajainen”s subtle and gentle penetration of the female dress is the highlight of the exhibit. Several of her smaller works, such as tiny watercolored paper dresses atop burlap or canvas, were complimented by a more striking installation “Dress Diary.” Hundreds of these one-dimensional paper dress cut-outs are hanging from string in one corner of the gallery. She pursues this “diary” of our personal histories by writing on the dresses. Some of her words are legible, and some are faded and scrawled beyond recognition.
She is attempting to gather the words that construct our memory of experience and place them on the style of clothing that can take many forms. “I wanted to reconsider the form to create a gentle shape that could embrace many moments at once, and give words a place to connect, a place to dwell,” Kalajainen said.
Like the other artists in the exhibit, Kalajainen is taking the familiar forms we inhabit and exposing their intricacies.