The Artist’s Studio Is Her Bedroom
At the Contemporary Art Gallery until April 5
Recently opened at the Contemporary Art Gallery, The Artist’s Studio Is Her Bedroom pivots on the premise that “the patriarchal conditions we inherited from modernism have profoundly shaped assumptions about where and by what means ‘serious’ artwork gets produced.” So writes curator Kimberly Phillips in her essay for the exhibition, which challenges conventional notions of the artist’s studio as the site of creativity. Many of the 10 artists represented here address the ways parenthood impacts the where and what of their creative practices. Others investigate different social and economic constraints that affect the realization of their creative visions.
Works on view include sculptures, video, drawings, weavings, and installations. Allusions are hectic and eclectic, from the Leisure duo’s tapping into the ways in which acclaimed British sculptor Barbara Hepworth raised her triplets (triplets!) to Brady Cranfield’s transcription of lyrics by the American rock band Superchunk, and from Damla Tamer’s teaching evaluations to Claire Greenshaw’s revisiting of an ancient Greek fable through her children’s drawings.
The show takes its title from Erica Stocking’s sculptural installation, which also functions as the set for a performance piece, scheduled to take place on March 24. Physical components of the work include a bed symbolically covered in white-painted canvas; a fabric backdrop printed with a photo of what looks like, but isn’t, a miniature theatre set of handmade bedroom furniture; black-on-white costumes; sculptural models; and a large fabric bunny. Stocking also offers up copies of scripts for eight performers, all seemingly versions of the artist’s persona.
References are both direct and oblique, ranging from Gustave Courbet to Sonia Delaunay, and from a beloved children’s book to WWI “dazzle” camouflage. As Phillips points out, Stocking builds her work around the women artists who have inspired her and the ways in which her creative practice functions alongside motherhood. In her script, one of the characters says, “I take on these roles and histories so large I am not sure how to carry them.” This line suggests doubt, yet Stocking’s installation emanates assurance.
Steven Brekelmans’s The Gift/The Climb/The Curse (Billiard Table) riffs on some of the themes he has been developing from an extended period during which he relegated his art practice to secondary status while working a demanding, full-time job in another field. He examines the subculture of hobbyists and ideas of craftsmanship along with the value the art market ascribes to certain objects, images, and materials. Previously, his intentional muddle of handcrafted and found objects was installed on an actual billiard table, as alluded to in his title. Here, he sets his assortment of unprepossessing things—including a wonky text sculpture made out of toothpicks—on a stepped plywood platform. Plinthlike, it shifts the allusion from a suburban rumpus room to the vaunted space of the art museum.
Maura Doyle’s art has evolved out of the condition of single motherhood, as she pursues the expressive and conceptual possibilities of materials and processes reduced to their most elemental. Her Experiments/Who the Pot? features an array of odd and beguiling ceramic vessels. Hand-built rather than wheel-thrown, and smoke-fired in an ancient manner that precludes the need of a kiln, these unglazed works speak of a kind of creative there-ness, of curiosity and immediacy. With Self Portrait as a Pot II, Doyle sends up archetypes and stereotypes, especially the wedded notions of creation and procreation and the vessel as a metaphor of the female body. Here, a rotund ceramic form is accoutred with a slab of clay “hair” and two noticeably phallic “arms”. Too funny.
It is a delight to witness the creative practices of artists who are not incidentally but intentionally parents, not shackled but rather inspired by their relationships with their kids. Not obliterated by the demands, either, of buying groceries and paying the rent, but informed and challenged by manoeuvring around them. Kudos to all the artists in this show. Long may they thrive.