Laurie Langford, Kelly Ridley, Becky Fixter Vagners
September 21 - October 29, 2011
Becky, Kelly, and I are found-object artists. We are also members of ARTspace in Chatham. After admiring each others' work for a year, we found that we had much in common, and decided that we wanted to work on a collaborative project. Becky assembles bits of rusty metal and wire that she finds on her walks, and creates sculptures. Kelly is a costumer, and assembles various works from fabric. I use objects found in thrift stores, and assemble them in shadowboxes. The Exhibitchin' was a way for the three of us to interpret the role of women in our own ways.
Below are images of the work that I created for the exhibition.
Locating the Body
by Phil Vanderwall
In 1950 Willem de Kooning started tinkering with the history of the male gaze by embarking upon a controversial series of paintings simply entitled Woman. Since that time representation of the female body has been left largely unresolved and held in a peculiar sort of suspension within the world of Fine Art. Unable to produce a coherent and singular vision of the feminine that could match the liberatory groundswell of gender reconstructions going on in society, that task was largely abandoned to the captains of popular culture and commerce. They, at least, had no problem deciding what to do with it. Grotesquely exaggerated markers of sexual difference and desire continue to abound, playing out across our mediations and ultimately writing themselves upon skin, bone and flesh itself.
Given the continued use of the female body as the site of seduction, violence and power, it is hardly surprising that the three artists in this show should pursue their interest in feminism by seeking to re-locate the place of the body within the realm of fine art. Becky Fixter-Vagners, Laurie Langford, and Kelly Ridley produce images of the body, albeit a body shown to exist in a state of painful and absurd absence.
All three artists utilize versions of the trace as a way of invoking this absence. From Langford's dioramas of pop culture innocence gone horribly wrong, to Fixter-Vagners’ use of industrial materials to create figural gestures and Ridley’s interpretations of Renaissance costume and narrative, there is a common sense of a body lost somewhere just beneath the languages of our cultural mediations and resonating deeply within our past. These artists reveal an inclination to reflect on origin and follow the line of gender construction into the historical artifacts and records of the patriarchy. By so doing, they create opportunities to pry open the language which has been handed down to us and inspect it for opportunities to produce new meanings.
The practical consequences of this work remain difficult to assess, but if we have learned anything, we have learned that gender roles can no longer be written by decree. In an age in which our technologies continue to blur biological distinctions between genders, there is a conflicted cultural hunger for both liberation and stability. Whether a new and more complex language can finally emerge from the endless debates over nature and nuture remains uncertain. By stepping into that breach and producing work of emotional complexity and resonance however, Fixter-Vagners, Langford, and Ridley make an argument that Art has a very valuable role to play in that process.
Phil Vanderwall is a writer, artist and business owner in Chatham-Kent. Vanderwall received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the
University of Waterloo and Master of Fine Arts from the University of Tennessee. He has worked with many galleries in Canada
and the United States, including the Robert McClain & Co. Gallery in Houston, Texas and Gallery Stratford in Stratford, Ontario.
by Krista Pires
The Exhibitchin’ brings together artists Laurie Langford, Becky Fixter Vagners, and Kelly Ridley in a dialogue on women, exploring woman’s representation in society, and how the various roles they play affects their own self image. Each artist uses their various media to “bitch” about a different aspect of how women are perceived and how they have been portrayed throughout culture. While the exhibition deals with representations of women, it is interesting to note that there are no “real” images of women, suggesting that there is no “real” woman. Women are suggested through sculptural pieces that include fabric, toy dolls, skulls, bones, rusted metal and wood. The show plays on the simplification of women, and the objectification that so many feel; yet the works are complex, grotesque, playful, and they reveal woman with all her flaws and complexities.
Laurie Langford’s shadow boxes titled The Saint Series are the most representational works in the show. Laurie plays with the idea of “real woman” by using a doll she refers to as Muffy as the bases for her works. The shadow boxes bring to mind memento mori, reliquary images, filled with metaphors, symbols and visual puns, and each element adds to the narrative unfolding within. Muffy represents the ideal woman; perfect measurements, always eager to please, yet here she is used like Frankenstein’s monster. The doll is the center of the pieces, but she is mutilated, altered and transformed into a figural saint that explores different aspects of how women are represented.
The works are titled St. Margaret the Barefoot, Our Lady of Perpetual Light, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Catherine the Astonishing, and St. Successa. They are inspired by stories in the media and each reveals a different narrative on women’s representation. Our Lady of Perpetual Help depicts Muffy inverted into a medicine bottle with broken pieces of bottles floating in the background with colorful animals and flowers, suggesting that even the “perfect woman” needs a little help to get through the day. In St. Margaret the Barefoot, Muffy is transformed into the ultimate warrior, who can care for her children, do laundry, and save the world all in the same day. St. Catherine the Astonishing, Langford reveals is the ultimate woman. With no mouth and six arms, she is designed to please every man. She carries the newspaper, brings the slippers, and with a suggestion of a robot-like body she is “always ready”. Not all of the boxes are humorous. Our Lady of Perpetual Light was based on a story of a woman whose husband, upset with her desire to seek an education, gouged out her eyes. St. Successa reveals how women who are success-driven are often viewed as backstabbers. Here a cat, suggesting the jealous ‘catty’ behavior that women often accuse each other of, replaces Muffy’s head.
Kelly Ridley’s wearable art pieces explore how women tend to objectify themselves, as well as how they identify their self-worth through their relationships. Her piece Reduced Circumstances is made from a recycled wedding dress, that includes broken fastenings, stains, and burn spots and is meant to call to mind how women deal with failed relationships. When a marriage fails, the woman often feels exposed, distressed, victimized, and are subject to judgments by a society that often equates happy relationships with self-worth.
Fantastique is made of PVC and leather-like material that is based from an 18th century corset and gown. It is an exploration of how women fetishize themselves through fashion, buying into the ideal beauty image that woman are supposed to be all the same size. Ridley says it shows the paradox of feeling trapped and mutilated by the beauty myths that women maintain. It is a comment about how women try to transform their bodies though uncomfortable fashion elements meant to create an “ideal body form” that does not naturally exist.
Her third piece Chimera, draws on themes that echo Becky’s piece Particia, where the female form reduced to parts. Inspired by the attack on 16th century poetess Veronica Franco by her male rivals, it deals with the external objectification of women as a way to minimize their social/mental abilities. As a companion piece to Fantastique, it also depicts how women have “bought into” and perpetuated objectification by raising “beauty” to such a level of importance that not only our minds but our actual bodies are subjected to it.
Becky Fixter Vagners’s pieces raise questions regarding the character and position of women in our culture. Created from salvaged, discarded metal pieces, they call to mind questions regarding function and purpose in a disposable word. Fixter Vagners says they “echo the many issues that older women face regarding identity and self-worth in a society that casts them aside once they are deemed old and useless”. Her pieces depict women as elements reducing the female form to parts. Particia sees women as an amalgamation of free-floating body parts. Becky weaves objects together to form works laden with profound meaning and complexity, and “they reveal women as three-dimensional beings with all of her flaws and beauty”.
Madonna addresses the totemic characterization of the mother figure. Madonna is portrayed as the ideal figure of motherhood, having no self identity beyond the confines of conceiving, birthing and raising children. Her body here is merely suggested through wood and metal. She has parts that are ambiguous yet suggestive of the “ideal mother”.
Duchess depicts the female form as a cage-like caricature, suggesting how women feel “shackled, constrained and restricted by convention and manners.” Maiden, draws inspiration from the iron maiden, with its twisted metal shapes that are beautiful yet sinister. It is meant to play on the stereotype of the young virgin, which Fixter Vagners said was inspired by the story of a Hungarian Countess, an older woman whose desire to be youthful led her to murder young virgin women. Again, Fixter Vagners draws on the idea of how women are both sacred and profane, seductive, grotesque, ambiguous and contradictory.
Krista Pires received her BA in Art History from the University of Western Ontario, and MA in Art History from York University.
She currently lives in Toronto where she is self-employed as a visual artist and crafter.