Sunday, August 9, 2009

Boxing Gloves & Bustiers


"...video has become a mirror to a lot of artists." --Kate Gilmore

On Wednesday, the dentist asked me if I wanted to stick around for a root canal or book a later appointment. "Hmm," I thought. "Should I get my first root canal spontaneously or catch the next train downtown to see an exhibition curated by a colleague?" The choice was simple: I was on the 3:58 to Grand Central. It seemed that the cosmos was chastising me though: the first scene I watched in one of 14 videos made by women in Soho20's Boxing Gloves and Bustiers featured a large tooth used as a key.

Curator Kate Gilmore, who works on the same campus as me, was kind enough to agree to an interview. Here's what she had to say about the show.

Q-The title Boxing Gloves & Bustiers prepares the viewer for a show that is both girly and grrrly, if you will. Do you see the title as referring to a spectrum that a single woman might inhabit, to alter egos, or to something else entirely?

A-I actually did not come up with this title. It was a title that was already picked and I juried the show from a large group of people who sent in videos. That said, my impression is that this was a show about women who were very comfortable being women--both in terms of reflecting a stereotype of female sexuality as well as reflecting a non-stereotypical assumption of female sexuality.

Q-Artists like Ronnie Cramer and Jody Wood redefine our notions of acceptable female behavior with with their physically aggressive female protagonists. Cramer profiles a very dedicated female wrestler and Wood attacks women in public spaces in what feels like a spoof. What has the reaction been to works like these in the exhibition?

A-I think all the works in the exhibition have received great reactions, but I haven't been around on a daily basis to give you the detailed responses. I do, however, feel that these pieces in particular reflect a strong aggressiveness in the female characters, allowing the audience to view an unexpected reality. Especially, the Ronnie Cramer piece because this is a documentary project where these actions are really taking place as opposed to planned and "acted".

Q-Anybody can be a star these days, with YouTube profiles and reality television shows. Do you think the performative element of video, where you feel as if the artist is performing for you alone, is more prominent now as a result? I'm thinking of works like the one in which Valerie Garlick sings 'I've got you under my skin' while scratching her sunburned arm until the flakes are thrust at the would-be viewer, and of Katarina Riesing's 'Duet', in which she lip synchs 'Don't go breakin' my heart' while remaining indifferent to the bloodbath she's participating in, with a the-show-must-go-on kind of perkiness.

A-I think video has become a mirror to a lot of artists. Artists are using video as a very self-reflective tool--an inexpensive, relatively easy, fast medium to get their messages across and to create new forms of self-portriature. Video and the simple means to put it out in the world allows artists to have a more immediate reaction to their work. Is this a result of YouTube or reality television, I'm not sure, but I think the moving image and the creation of that in a relatively simple and fast way is very attractive to a lot of contemporary artists.

Q-I found a number of the works difficult to stomach, like Yi Hsin Tzeng's in which buckets of paint are poured over a woman's head (it reminded me of waterboarding) and the one in which a naked woman is strapped to the underside of a table and awkwardly attempts to crawl around a room. Did you find the process of vetting the submissions to be taxing in this way? I imagine that it could have been overwhelming.

A-I really enjoyed jurying the show. Sure, there was a lot of work to look at--some good, some bad, some difficult, some easy, but, as an artist myself, it is great to see all these people working in interesting ways and trying to function withing this theme. I appreciate work that is "hard to stomach", if it makes sense, is well executed, and fully expresses the theme at hand.

Q-With so many artists making their videos available online, do you feel that the role of the curator has changed when putting together a show of video art?

A-Maybe. I am not a "curator" per se. I have done a couple of curatorial projects, but I, in no way feel that I can give you a full answer to this. That said, as an artist who works in video, watching videos online is a very different experience than seeing them in an exhibition--watching work on flatscreens, projected, in installations, etc. If a curator is just looking to the Internet to put together video exhibitions, we might have a serious problem on our hands!

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