On Adornment
Pen and Brush Gallery
29 E. 22nd Street
September 20 to October 27, 2018

Keeping the common thread of adornment as its unifying concept, Pen and Brush presents On Adornment, a group show featuring photos, paintings, videos, and 3D sculptures. Curator Jenn Hampton considers the show as an exploration of how adornment has changed women: “I wanted to explore the idea of adornment as it appeals to us as women. I find myself drawn to imagery that expresses the act of adornment both from a ritual, historical and contemporary point of view.”

When thinking about the type of change Hampton references, a good starting point on the feminist use of adornment would be bell hooks and her book published in 2000 titled Feminism is for Everybody. She states, “The clothing and revolution created by feminist interventions let females know that our flesh was worthy of love and adoration in its natural state; nothing had to be added unless a woman chose further adornment.” In this quote, we see how adornment is interwoven with feminist interventions, revolution, and a female led valuation of the female form.

Rose Deler fights against old rules regarding the female image that would require women to wear uncomfortable undergarments. She describes her work as an act of revenge in which she covers these antiquated undergarments in ink and puts them through a printing press, revealing the inner metallic structure used to morph women’s bodies into the various shapes popular at the time of their creation.

Bra and Girdle by Rose Deler. Image courtesy of Pen and Brush Gallery

Much of Deler’s work features a black, white, and grey palette which she employs to add melancholy and nostalgia to her work. “I look back, albeit romantically, to a time when things were hand-made and made well. The objects I make speak to the past but they also speak to the passing of time. They are of someone who once was, and is no more, but is still telling their story,” says Deler. An interesting result of her work is a historical commentary on undergarments that would trap women in metal or whale-bone cages, sometimes applying so much pressure on their bodies that women would suffer compressed lungs and broken ribs.

Katherine Cooksey comments on the pressure of women to conform to a traditional female image that places a tremendous burden on women to fulfill unrealistic expectations of beauty. Drawing on her experience in pageantry, Miss Art World portrays Cooksey immersed in a pool filled with gold material that sticks to her body, evoking the stress placed on women to achieve physical perfection that has existed throughout history.

 

Still from “Miss Art World” by Katherine Cooksey. Image courtesy of Pen and Brush Gallery

 

Cooksey had the following to say of the video:

“I am endlessly performing, following orders, smiling, posing for the judges. Yet the moment comes when I decide to break the rules and tale the hazardous path off the stage, littered with plastic body parts. Coming down from the stage I confront my jurors who are just smiling balloons. I move passed them and their smiles turn to frowns since their control over me is gone. The gold pool is rebirth, it is the melting down of an old state of being, the drowning of society’s standards of beauty and the formation of my own which stays reflective and stuck to my body. “

Joanne Leah’s presents photographic work featuring nude female bodies with heads cut off and bodies tied in unconventional ways not typical in the Japanese bondage tradition of shibari. “‘Golden Hour’ is a reference to Venus of Willendorf as well as crumbling Ancient Greek statues that are missing body parts. I rarely show faces in my work to protect my subjects’ identities. Faces are very expressive, distinctive and closely linked to the mind. I try to create a feeling of displacement by hiding them,” remarks Leah.

Golden Hour by Joanne Leah. Image courtesy of Pen and Brush Gallery.

Untitled is a collaborative piece with rope work by Marceline Valerie Quentin and modeling by Anya Demure. Both women are active in the fetish community here in NYC. It is exciting to work with women who are reclaiming their bodies and sexuality, not intended for the male gaze. My work explores the body through adornment, the space between our skin and the outside world.”

Untitled by Joanne Leah. Image courtesy of Pen and Brush Gallery.

Jen Huling makes adornment an opportunity for remembrance and nostalgia through a 3D-printed wedding dress based on one that had been passed down through her family: she wore it, along with her mother and her two aunts. The dress is composed of 260 3D-printed blocks that were glued together and spray painted black. The exact layout of the dress is a result of scanning the original dress in the precise form desired; Huling then went about the time-consuming process of recreating its intricate beading. Lastly, she created hundreds of cabochons, each of which symbolizes something important in her life. Huling creates a universe of symbolic meaning with these cabochons that range from photos of herself on her wedding day, her mother, her aunts, mini-sculptures commemorating her cat that died while the dress was being made, to the Batman insignia. “The day after I put the Batman symbol on there, Adam West died. I killed Batman.”

Installation view of On Adornment, showing work by Jen Huling, Rose Deler, and Joanne Leah. Image courtesy of Parker Daley

Photo of work by Jen Huling, Rose Deler, and Joanne Leah, courtesy of Parker Daley

On Adornment is a provocative exhibition that explores the curation of not only what is placed on the body but also what is placed in our homes and any other space we are able to personalize. These curatorial decisions reflect a history of adornment that is celebrated as a mechanism of empowerment and liberation dating back to the lipstick used by Cleopatra, the ingredients of which are similar to what is used today. We can also see how the history of adornment is filled with melancholy relics reflecting the rigid cage of conformity and societal pressure on women. Maybe it’s best to leave it to bell hooks and expand the quote mentioned earlier to let her further expound on the benefits of feminist interventions in adornment.

“No longer forced by sexist tradition to wear makeup, women looked in the mirror and learned to face ourselves just the way we are…The clothing and revolution created by feminist interventions let females know that our flesh was worthy of love and adoration in its natural state; nothing had to be added unless a woman chose further adornment. Initially, capitalist investors …put their money behind mass-media campaigns … portraying images which suggested feminists were big, hypermasculine, and just plain old ugly. In reality, women involved in feminist movement came in all shapes and sizes. We were utterly diverse. And how thrilling to be free to appreciate our differences without judgment or competition. “