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One for the Ladies

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Motherlode, Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana's only feminist curatorial group, has been creating exhibitions for the past 7 years or so, all exploring feminist attitudes, femininity, and contemporary female artists within the region. Motherlode's next exhibition will take place at the Jeffrey Krull Art Gallery in the Allen County Public Library's downtown branch on September 11 and continues until November 1, 2009. In this exhibition, Motherlode is connecting more established adult female artists with younger artists still coming to understand their artistic practices and motivations. While the group is primarily about the promotion of female artists, their concepts and themes behind the exhibition's vary. This show is entitled "Big Ideas in Small Packages" and will consist of art pieces no larger than 15"x15" framed.

Motherlode is governed by Karen Thompson, Cara Lee Wade, Marcy Adams, Mary Klopfer, and Holly Heath. All of these female artists are professionals working and living within Northeast Indiana, and are responsible for curating the Motherlode exhibitions, from calls of entry to tear down, with the help of other female artists like Deb Washler, executive director of Artlink and Lesley Lundgren, exhibit coordinator for the ACPL.

"Big Ideas in Small Packages" contains art with many different styles and media, from photography to painting and found object/assemblage. Among the pieces in this show, there are many stand outs by artists like Mary Klopfer, Katrina Stolarski, Lesley Lundgren, Deb Washler, Corie Singleton, and Amy Schreiber. However, the four pieces and artists which stand out the most include Cara Lee Wade, Sommer Starks, Serrah Russell, and Bethany Schlegel.

Cara Lee Wade's work, which is populated with ambiguous characters, decadent colors and textures, and a connection to the past which leads to a myriad of meanings for all of the symbols included in her pieces. In this exhibition, Wade's pieces are centered around the identity of the woman. Wade's pieces include images of the female body. However, it isn't the body as much as the psychological identity that is carried through these pieces. Wade's piece "Coiffure" is particularly striking and reminiscent of turn of the century German printmakers and draftsmen like Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele, and Kathe Kollwitz. The striking contrast between the black background and white silhouette of the woman turns her body into either a void or powerful object. Her positioning of her arms when recognized as a body suggests a broken armless bust from antiquity, while when not recognized, turns the body into a organic abstract shape. Wade's other pieces in this show seem to deal more with the imagery and ideas of the "girl" more than the "woman," with images of a solemn girl walking through a landscape, an image appropriated from an illustration of Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and an image of the cover of a book entitled Homely Girl, A life.

Sommer Starks has been on a role recently with incredible work that is both formally and conceptually detailed. In this exhibition, Starks's work takes the form of small framed boxes, almost like Cornell boxes, which are filled in various degrees with hair, string, and lint or felt. Starks work through feminine issues in wonderfully abstract ways, alluding to them in material choice, which opens these ideas up to male audiences much more by preempting the experience of them with a gendered reference. The best part of these pieces is that, while one could strive to attach them art historically to other artists or pieces like the David Hammons, these are incredibly original pieces which can be expanded and explored deeply. These pieces evoke cartography and astronomical descriptions, bodily descriptions, and base organic descriptions, like bacterial cultures and colonies.

Serrah Russell, an artist not previously known to this writer, displays incredibly mature work with her manipulated grayscale photographs and collages. Russell's piece "I Forgot Not To Remember You" is excellent in its non-chalant appropriation of an image of Audrey Hepburn apparently getting kissed on the cheek. By erasing the faces of both, the image becomes awkward, neutered, and mechanical. Mirroring this neutering of the female body is the piece "Censored for your viewing Pleasure", an image of a kneeling naked woman, whose backside is blurred and covered with a patterned of geometric leaf shapes. Russell's pieces and their titles all work under the auspices of feminist art and ideas of "the gaze," the gendered male reference through art history, where a women is traditionally looked at, while the men are looking. Russell's pieces, like Barbara Kruger, invert this gaze, and she directly connects to the viewer with titles that address them.

Last, but certainly not least, Bethany Schlegel, another artist who is new at least to this writer, is so generous to exhibit the beautiful piece "Thirty Eight Self Portraits." Schlegel's artist statement, "My work reflects on being a woman, whether it be introspective and an obsession with self image, or socially, in the way we interact with others", is a perfect description of this piece that takes identity, fashion, and interaction into a highly conceptual realm. This piece, formally, has extreme range from the delicate figure drawings which make up each incarnation of "the woman," to the perfectly cold and minimal gridding of the characters, the whiting out of faces and other signs of different bodies, and the very confined palette. All of this places the importance on the hair style, type of clothing, and displaying or posing which each body exhibits.

Succeeding in its mission, Motherlode creating an significant collection of women artists, whose work has much to say about being a woman, but even more to say about the general human condition and speaks volumes about art history and the art world itself. With all of these great pieces of art collected into one show, "Big Ideas in Small Packages" is sure to be an exhibition not to miss.

Also don't forget to check out "Birds and Bees", an exhibition of Katie Moore and Ashley Sharp, two other local female artists with great work. "Birds and Bees" will open at Pint N Slice downtown, which opens August 22nd from 7-9pm, and will be up until September 28th.

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