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Fragments and Repetition: Extending the Narrative of Sculptural Installation continued

Virginia Maksymowicz


Home of Model T (1983) (fig. 16), (fig. 17) Bronze-painted, cast paper female breasts and hubcaps with a text cast directly from the historical plaque at the original Model T Ford factory in Detroit, the installation is about the selling of women, cars, and the American dream. The combination of alliterative and assonate repetition strengthens the metaphor of mass production.


The Bottom Line (1984) (fig. 18), (fig. 19) A series of cast paper rear ends, collaged bureaucratic forms, and institutional floor tiles in an installation about art, lotteries, and unemployment at Artcite Gallery in Windsor, Ontario. The alliterative repetition of the figures is an obvious allusion to both the long queues at government offices and the repeated months spent collecting benefits.


What is it that We Refuse to See? (1997) (fig. 20), (fig. 21) A window installation as part of Artfronts in Philadelphia. Eight cast figures, hands over eyes, float upon a blue background behind a question, which is stencilled upon the inside of the window in translucent wax. At night the window begins to glow from blue fluorescent lights hidden below. The repeated figures emphasize the ‘we’ and reflect the downtown crowds and passers-by.


The History of Art (ongoing series) (fig. 22) A series of paper casts of a female torso with icons of art history painted onto their surfaces. It is a humorous attempt at feminist appropriation of male-attributed images. The alliterative torsos and their assonate painted images are presented in a serial manner. The implication of a linear progression in Western art history is combined with the repeated insistence of the relationship between the visual arts and the female body.

In the next works the repetition of figures, sculpture stands, and ornamental elements reinforce a relationship to both the structural architecture of the installation space and to the social architecture of our lives:

Garden of Earthly Delights (1998) (fig. 23), (fig. 24) An installation consisting of a series of architectural moulding wreaths encircling a woman’s face. The faces have fruits or vegetables forced into their mouths, with words underneath that are used to describe the characteristics of those fruits . . . or, allegorically, that are often used to describe the characteristics of women.


Peripheral Vision (2002) (fig. 25), (fig. 26), (fig. 27) This installation was first designed for three ‘unnoticed’ walls in the corners of the Dana Gallery at the Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – walls that are not large enough for most displays and that are usually seen only from the corners of one’s eyes. Three female bodies were cast in great detail (using a material called alginate that enables the artist to take moulds directly from the human body), painted the same colour white as the walls and illuminated only by indirect light. In this work the form (the generic female bodies – they had no faces), the material (high-detail alginate-cast Hydrocal), and the installation (in the peripheral spaces of the gallery) were all used together to fashion a metaphor for the structural but often unrecognized role of women in the social architecture.


The Physical Boundaries of this World (2002) (fig. 28), (fig. 29) The metaphor of the structural but often unrecognized role of women in the social architecture was pushed in a slightly different direction in this installation at the Ceres Project Room of the Elizabeth Foundation in New York City. In this installation four female bodies lay on a cyan-blue floor, each straddling the middle portion of what could be seen as sculpture stands or as architectural struts that spanned the gallery from wall to wall. Viewers were invited to step over and around the figures. These caryatid-like forms appeared either to be pulling the exterior walls of the space inward or pushing the walls outward. The sky-like/water-like blue ground and the indirect lighting created an ethereal atmosphere that seemed to mitigate their physical struggle.


Pediment (2005) (fig. 30), (fig. 31) Designed for the Williams Center for the Arts Gallery at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, for an exhibition entitled ‘Sheltered’, the female body is again juxtaposed with architecture, now in an exploration of the notion of emotional shelter. The figures here are displayed upside down evoking an ostrich-like ‘head-in-the-sand’ position. However, their abdominal nudity makes it obvious that they are vulnerable and exposed to public view. Additionally, they hold up an architectural pediment with their feet in an ironic gesture of security and stability. The metaphor not only encompasses issues of gender and futile attempts at self-protection, but might be extended to include America’s current political situation as well.


Last month I paid a visit to Johns’s Target with Four Faces (fig. 32) at the newly renovated MoMA. This relatively small work – now fifty years old – still has the power to inspire me. The thoughts outlined in this paper are an attempt to articulate why.

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Fragments and Repetition • Issue 8