Discussion with Kay Chernush and Mary Coble
On Thursday, October 16th, guests of the Ellipse Arts Center joined Kay Chernush and Mary Coble for a discussion entitled: Personal Identity and the Disjunction of Public Perception.
Uncommon Beauty artists Mary Coble (left) and Kay Chernush (right). Kay Chernush explains her photographs entitled Self-Examination and how she established a new process of creating her work that she continues to use in newer projects.
Blood Script artist, Mary Coble, talks about the different stages of her project's development.
Uncommon Beauty: Opening Reception and Artists' Talk
JUROR: Sarah Tanguy, independent curator, critic and ART in Embassies Program Curator
ARTISTS: Kay Chernush, Mary Coble, Frank Hallam Day, Jason Horowitz, Lucian Perkins and Athena Tacha
"…The six artists in Uncommon Beauty peel away taboos and biases to tackle the underpinnings of desire and self-worth. By isolating conventional loci of corporeal and ornamental beauty, their photographs and videos reveal a charged intersection of strength, beauty, and identity, with implications both personal and cultural. Alternate perspectives emerge that move beyond victimization and acceptance of fads to empowerment and liberation of the individual. While approaches to the subject vary, the power of transformation in each project fuels a tension between outer and inner beauty. None of them are set-ups or constructed realities, reflecting the artists’ self-conscious lens of raw honesty…" -Sarah Tanguy, juror
Please note: “Uncommon Beauty” exhibits photographs with adult content that may not be suitable for children. Parental discretion is advised.
Kay Chernush speaks about her work during the Artists' Talk.
Kay Chernush presents a series of self portraits that were created in an effort to renew a sense of beauty after a double mastectomy. "…Despite years of rebelling against such conventional notions of beauty, I was forced to confront my own vanity along with the fear of my own mortality…I used camera, computer, direct body scans and overlays to acquaint myself with my reconfigured body…" -Kay Chernush Kay Chernush (left) converses with fellow artist Lucian Perkins (right). Artwork from left to right: "Reflection, Post-Op", "AC+T" and "Side Effect". "Full Circle" hangs behind the artist and a guest.
"Fallout" by Kay Chernush.Mary Coble
Mary Coble is a performance artist whose work reveals social stereotypes, especially those dealing with sexuality. "My goal is to make people question themselves, each other and our experience as a community that is part of a larger world. For Blood Script I chose 75 of those hateful terms and had them tattooed, without ink, onto the front portion of body in a very ornate script. After each word was completed, watercolor paper was pressed against the fresh incision and a blood impression was created. As a hate speech amassed on my flesh, the wall beside of me also filled with the hate speech." – Mary Coble
Mary Coble in front of "Blood Script". Ellipse Arts Center Curator, Cynthia Connolly, modeling her 'photographic skirt' in front of Mary Coble's "Blood Script Performance Documentation".
Frank Hallam Day While Traveling in Ethiopia, Frank Hallam Day noticed many hand-painted roadside signs advertising beauty salons. Intrigued by how the images were influenced by other cultures and seemingly foreign ideas of beauty, Day began a series of photographs that document these notions of ‘glamour’ amidst their desert surroundings. "The women represented are often ethnically indeterminate: sometimes clearly Caucasian, sometimes Asian. When they do resemble Ethiopians, their hair and clothing clearly reflect exotic foreign styles; they have bouffant hairdo’s, they wear white gloves and twirl strands of pearls in their fingers. In the poor farming towns and villages where I photographed these signs one suspects there isn’t much pearl twirling going on." – Frank Hallam Day
"Ethiopian Beauty Salon #71".
The artist in front of "Gia No. 2".
Jason Horowitz’ incredibly zoomed in and blown up ‘slices’ of the human body, draw attention to enlarged pores, hair follicles, blood vessels around an eye and other seemingly mundane parts of our body that go unnoticed. These extreme views demand attention and at times leave the viewer blushing. "Playing with the tension between attraction and repulsion, the images reveal a hyper-realistic amount of detail about the subject and explore the relationship between photographic representation and painterly abstraction, the formal elements in tension with the emotional content of the subject matter. Their scientific/medical point-of-view is balanced by the intimate, personal, and sometime sensuous nature of the subject matter." – Jason Horowitz
"Gia No. 2" by Jason Horowitz.
"AnuRa No. 3" by Jason Horowitz.
Widely known for his Pulitzer Prize winning body of photographs, Lucian Perkins has shifted over to video and mulitimedia work that compliments his ongoing love for traditional photography. Juror, Sarah Tanguy describes his piece Divine Divas as, “a humorous riff on the popular urban fairytale, Sex in the City. Asking which came first, the divas or the series, the multimedia project explores how a show can generate a group experience that validates individual feelings” – Lucian Perkins
Lucian Perkins speaks about his video, "Divine Divas" at the Artists' Talk. Athena Tacha
Athena Tacha (right) points out the changes in her appearance over time
Athena Tacha’s work for this exhibition is a dedicated series of portraits documenting her aging process over the course of 36 years. A dramatic installation spanning an entire wall displays her almost scientific approach. "Looking at my face over the gap of some 40 years, I look like a wreck, but this is because I was used to my earlier face. My skin’s wrinkles and sags are due to all the work I did during these year. Would I give up everything I accomplished to have back my youthful beauty? No! And if I live long enough, I may acquire a new, different beauty." – Athena Tacha
"36 Years of Aging: 1972-2007".
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Uncommon Beauty runs through December 13, 2008. Please note, we are closed the week of Thanksgiving and we close at 4pm on Friday, October 17.
Don't miss our upcoming events!
PERSONAL IDENTITY and the DISJUNCTION of PUBLIC PERCEPTION; A DISCUSSION WITH KAY CHERNUSH AND MARY COBLE: Thursday, October 16, 7–9pm
ART EYES HAPPY HOUR: Friday, November 7, 7–9pm
All are welcome to personally interact with select Uncommon Beauty artists as we connect the Deaf and Visual Arts communities. Art Eyes is designed to create dialogue, art critique amongst peers and interpretation of artworks. Our mission is to empower the Deaf community and to become more involved with the Visual Arts. Targeted audiences include all artists, art lovers and the art-curious. ASL interpreters will be present and parking is free/open late.
ASL interpreter, Grace Hetrick (left), Uncommon Beauty juror, Sarah Tanguy (center) and the originator of the Art Eyes concept, Tabitha Jacques (right).
When the Messenger is the Medium
Essay by Sarah Tanguy, juror of Uncommon Beauty
In Twilight Zone’s “Eye of the Beholder,” an anxious young woman learns her surgery has failed, condemning her to a life of beauty in a piggish population, while in “Ugly Betty,” a gorgeous actress, made unattractive with braces and glasses, engages in the character’s quest for self-worth. Both examples from TV culture test the stereotype of equating a woman’s identity with her looks. In between these extremes, a realm of possibility opens where competing—and at times conflicting—standards of feminine beauty invite scrutiny.
Uncommon Beauty juror, Sarah Tanguy
The six artists in Uncommon Beauty peel away taboos and biases to tackle the underpinnings of desire and self-worth. By isolating conventional loci of corporeal and ornamental beauty, their photographs and videos reveal a charged intersection of strength, beauty, and identity, with implications both personal and cultural. Alternate perspectives emerge that move beyond victimization and acceptance of fads to empowerment and liberation of the individual. While approaches to the subject vary, the power of transformation in each project fuels a tension between outer and inner beauty. None of them are set-ups or constructed realities, reflecting the artists’ self-conscious lens of raw honesty.
Ellipse Arts Center volunteer, Frank Higgins, admires Frank Day's "Ethiopian Beauty Salon #79"
Dolled-up faces gaze at us through the bright palette and scratches in Frank Hallam Day’s Signs of Beauty, images of worn advertising signs for beauty salons taken along the roadsides of Ethiopia. Like an anthropologist, he is drawn to the signs not for their coiffures, make-up or jewelry, but for the layered, cultural disconnect they represent. Their features, most likely from outdated, glamour magazines and videos, are Caucasian, Asian and Ethiopian composites, rendered in varying degrees of pictorial sophistication and anatomical accuracy. Some have been mysteriously vandalized. Meant to please and attract, the images offer an unattainable dream that rural Ethiopians cannot read in context, leaving us to realize that “we” have become the exoticised “Other.”
Kay Chernush's "In My Dreams I Wear Satin and Lace"
In vivid contrast, Kay Chernush’s Self-Examination chronicles her bout with breast cancer, and addresses the loss of two potent carriers of feminine beauty—breasts and hair. Starting with In My Dreams I Wear Satin and Lace, we experience the power of the camera to transform the trauma of a double mastectomy and reconstruction and the fear of her own mortality into emotionally charged images of nuanced beauty. Digital and film snapshots of her body and scans of bandages and clothing are freely interwoven in the computer, producing a soft palette and radiating glow. In some, a hazy transparency takes on the melancholic aura of illness, with titles and text reinforcing ambivalent feelings about her altered reality and recovery. Scars become emblems of survival and hope, as we discover not a literal truth, but a story of growing at ease with a new self-image.
"Blood Script" by Mary Coble
Healing is also a theme in Mary Coble’s interdisciplinary Blood Script. In the antithesis of a red carpet performance, Coble stood vulnerable on a platform and invited viewers to write slurs on her body in New York, Washington, DC and Madrid. Later, she had the most common of them tattooed without ink onto her skin, and had contact prints made with blood as the medium. Through her stoicism, the stigma of hearing, voicing and receiving hate words is ritually cleansed, their derogatory meanings masked by the prints’ reverse lettering and blood smears. Instead the exquisite delicacy of their impressions and cursive font takes over. While the commingling of male and female epithets underscores the abuse of feminine beauty, Coble’s defiance of gender specific labeling urges for communal introspection.
Athena Tacha's "36 Years of Aging"
Like Chernush and Coble, Athena Tacha uses herself in the ongoing black and white series, 36 Years of Aging, which documents temporal change to her face and body. Oscillating between abstraction and figuration, the vertical bands form a processional frieze evoking the serial motion photographs of Eadweard Muybridge and the disturbing racial studies of the late 19th century. Though taken with near clinical precision, the project abounds in subtle variations. With each smiling and serious face, or straightforward body image, small wrinkles and sags, or graying hair creep in. Accumulatively, these markers make permanent the vicissitudes of her life even as they throw into relief our youth-crazed culture and challenge their negative implications for feminine, but not masculine, beauty.
Jason Horowitz in front of "Gia No.2"
In Jason Horowitz’s Corpus, everyday people willingly bare themselves to the camera in a manner of their own choosing. Using fashion lighting, he takes details of their anatomy and enlarges them into hyper-realistic, color prints. Their gigantism at once assaults our ideas of attraction and repulsion as we negotiate the ambiguous, fleshy landscapes that border on abstraction. Can a plucked eyebrow and smudged mascara, whose blue sheen echoes the letters of a contact lens, still beckon? Does a playful open mouth and nostrils, with lipstick line and facial hair exposed, spoil the anticipation of a kiss? Unlike other body-based work in the show, Horowitz’s anonymous portraits juxtapose vulnerability with exhibitionism, raising the complicating issue of voyeurism.
Video Still from "Divine Divas" by Lucian Perkins
Reality meets fantasy in Lucian Perkins’ Divine Divas, a humorous riff on the popular urban fairytale, Sex in the City. Asking which came first, the divas or the series, the multimedia project explores how a show can generate a group experience that validates individual feelings. We observe four women discussing the two “L”s—labels and love, as they, like their TV surrogates, reveal their personal tribulations and the bond of friendship. Even as their talk reinforces the stereotype of a confirmed “fashionista,” the ability to realize its downside checks their passion. With the unspoken innocence of childhood dress-up and role-playing in the background, they draw strength from knowing that aging fosters self-reliance and freedom of imaginative expression.
As a vision in progress, Uncommon Beauty seeks an expansion of attitude, a reclaiming of feminine beauty from the purveyors of diets, surgeries, and other so-called enhancements. The artists, as image brokers, encourage us, whatever our gender or sexual preference may be, to revisit standards—moving past the labels, biases and clichés toward acceptance of a more holistic, more authentic beauty.