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Remember Me

Burchfield Penney Art Center- Exhibition Catalogue

May 2024

Remember Me

 

Essay by Tiffany D Gaines

Memories, like identities, are hardly ever linear and absolute.  Rather, they are nuanced, imperfect, and layered.  We experience a myriad of personal and social influences that help shape and reshape our identities over time.  The accumulation of these impressions lingers as our understanding of ourselves and how we relate to the world around us evolves.

 

Multidisciplinary artist Patricia Schnall Gutierrez considers how disjointed memories inform identity and broader perceptions of femininity.  Receiving her BFA from SUNY Buffalo in 1978, the development of her practice coincided with second-wave feminism, challenging societal limitations on the roles of women.  She utilizes drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, film, collage, and performance to address these limitations while infusing her own narratives as a woman, artist, mother, and wife.

 

Much of her work mines histories, acknowledging how the past informs the present to create what she considers "a contemporary chronicle of life interwoven with memories of joy, sorrow, growth, and introspection."  Fragmentation is a continuous theme of her process, which ponders the relationship between material, form, and outcome. 

The mixed media installation Fragmented Memories (2024) contains an old desk surrounded by collage panels.  Several collages include black-and-white images reminiscent of 1950s Americana, and the quintessential mid-century woman who is fulfilled by homemaking and motherhood.  Schnall Gutierrez references domestic chores throughout her work to interrogate the underlying strain of these traditional roles and the experiences they entail. Erased in the Wash (2013) combines a sprawling 200-foot washing machine hose with audio of water, and whispers inviting the viewer to "come closer."  Inspired by a woman's tragic abusive experience behind closed doors, the installation bears the weight of such unspoken moments despite attempts for them to be washed away and forgotten.  

There is a similar unsettledness to Sleepwalk (2013), a projection on folded white sheets that illustrates the "restless dream of a midlife housewife." As the subject's legs wrestle in bed, she is unable to find comfort, peace, and stillness where she is.  Turning inward, the photographic series Self Portraits with Polka Dots (2012) depicts the artist wrapped in a white sheet at the impasse between two doorways.  The work signals tension between her roles as a wife and mother and as an artist.  Losing herself under the pressure of fulfilling both external duties and internal passions, she is absent in the last image, and solely the sheets remain.

The inclusion of fabrics, such as the sheets in Sleepwalk and Self Portraits, is a recurring motif that nods to the history of textiles as an integral part of traditional women's labor. 

A Life of Dress Up (2024) includes a disassembled female mannequin adorned in a dress with a collection of tattered shoes surrounding the base, and makeup dripping down her face.  An assemblage of worn and torn clothes hangs behind.  The work emphasizes clothing as a site of memory that marks changing perceptions of womanhood over time.  

Schnall Gutierrez's practice recognizes and moves fluidly beyond imposed constructions of femininity.  Her series of charcoal drawings are gestural abstractions that visualize female forms with no constraints.  The ongoing Package Project activates viewers as participants in this meditative space as they contribute anonymous recollections of home and domestic labor.  As the notes are packaged and collected, the vastness of individual and collective memories accumulates.  Whether assumed and imposed roles of feminine identity are critiqued or embraced, fostering dialogue that allows for a multitude of voices to be affirmed is vital.  Power lies in asserting space for women to define and honor the unique experiences that shape their lives on their terms.  As contemporary threats to women's autonomy continue to loom, such conversations remind us of the progress made towards equity and what is at stake, making them more necessary than ever.  

Tiffany D. Gaines

Curatorial & Digital Content Associate

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Bodies, Maps, and Territories - Personal Geographies

Aluna Art Foundation - Exhibition Catalogue

January  2014

Body, Maps, and Territories - Personal Geographies

 

Essay by Adriana Herrera 

Patricia Schnall Gutiérrez’s oeuvre refers us to – and reactivates − that crucial expressionist alternative opposing cold minimalism which was inaugurated by “Eccentric Abstraction”, the historical exhibition curated by Lucy Lippard in 1966 in New York. Schnall reflects the long-standing validity of the influence of post-minimalism, which had then reconnected art and life through the work of artists such as Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgois, and Yayoi Kusama. These three women artists -among others- are key referents in the artistic history of Schnall, who explores through materials and conceptual visions of her own, the relation between autobiography and representation, between the gaze on the body and feminine identity, strengthening awareness of the fact that the ontology of the woman of the third millennium is undergoing a transition towards new modes of re-cognition. She herself creates the awareness that she is paving the way, work after work, for other maps of access to oneself, overlapping the territory of the days.

 

On the other hand, her works disrupt the famous indifference with which Marcel Duchamp chose his ready-mades: Schnall chooses the objects she incorporates in her installations based on their association with life and their clear connection with the feminine. In this way, she eliminates the separation not only between common objects in general and art but between the specific world of the domestic and the exhibition space. In several cases, such as in the installations Body Language and Inheritance made with antique machines she assigns to found objects a key function: she makes them appear − through the insertion of photographs or photocopies − as kinds of image-producing machines that put in crisis the iconography with which, during her teen years −in the late 1960s − the roles of woman were still being defined. Schnall manipulates found objects − which have in common their belonging to an earlier era and eventually fulfilling a function associated with domestic chores − inserting in them a new function: that of producing unique portraits of women.

 

They thus become machines whose product is the representation of the feminine identity which introduces a discontinuity in the collective imaginaries of the domestic. In a post-modernist practice that reactivates in its way the post-minimalist legacy, but also the Duchampian learning experiences, Schnall uses home-made materials such as the plastic garbage bags she utilizes as a metaphor for the uterine membrane in the installation Missing, or like the steel wool with which she produces a three-dimensional installation reminiscent of women coat in Memoir, in such a way that she transforms a material associated to cleaning into an impeccable abstract piece open to the viewer’s reading: he/she may well enjoy its formal structure per se, or go farther and associate it with that intelligent “disobedience” with which instead of using a kitchen material, Schnall creates an artistic piece that may be connected to a body shape, as a sort of new, created identity.Thus, the choice of materials is essential to her way of giving visibility to phenomena such as mass female feticide. In fact, she cleverly associates it to the accumulation of bags containing garbage, and to the mirror of a culture that garbage represents: what is discarded is as significant, or even more so, than that which is considered valuable.

 

That strategy to analyze the social gaze on women reveals how how they are seen, or rather denied, may even turn out to be lethal, for as it is evidenced by this global phenomenon, their underestimation encourages practices of mass elimination even before they are born, when they are still in a state of development. Likewise, Schnall reveals another aspect of the social gaze on women: the connection between garments and standardizing roles. This perception of feminine beauty that may be incarnated, in a metonymic way, in the fetish of dancers’ tutus, functions as a trap gaze insofar as it imprisons women in fixed roles, distancing them from their creative potential.The spectator is not wrong when he/she feels the latent, disturbing force of destruction in the installation featuring small pictures comprised of found portraits of women in black and white and with superimposed tutus. There is a sort of insubordination in the images of women artists − such as Hesse and Bourgeois, among many others − or writers, whose photocopied images appear in a way that creates tension between their inner world and the garments that cover them. Many materials appeal, in fact, to the ambiguity between strength and delicacy, and suggest the latent potency for transformation, visualizing at the same time homogenization or mass use, and unappeasable individuality.

 

The title of the installation Herd clearly illustrates this characteristic of the gregarious associated with forms of social imposition that it renders visible through some kinds of skirts or bodies represented in a uniform way with animal wool. But at the same time, the image of the photocopied legs in each small picture is unique: it confirms the irrepressible nature of self-identity.  In Untitled (cocoon installation), the cocoons are made up of recycled paper, ropes tied by hand in such a way that repetition distances itself completely from the minimalist emotional asepsis and reaffirms the unique character of each cocoon. What they actually share is the potential for growth. In this work, as in other works of hers − including previous performances associated to several of her pieces − a material included is the rope that alludes to the umbilical chord, to the link with the source of life, but also to death, since it is an allusion to those creators –such as Arshile Gorky that committed suicide, and even to a family related women that in a stage of anguish tried to hang herself.

   

The connection between the performance and the use of materials and the function of catharsis transports the space where her oeuvres are materialized to the inner world connected to the collective unconscious and the crisis in the social definition of roles. Both in the serial photographs Self Portraits with Polka Dots, or in the diptych White Smoke, Black Smoke, the artist dresses herself in white bed sheets, a substitute for nudity, although tied together in such a way that the atmosphere of oppression leads to the scene of her fall, which expresses the effect of enduring internal violence illustrated by the superimposed red polka dots. In the same way, in the second series, the clouds − black or white − are resources for the expression of emotional chaos in scenes with theatrical content.

The neutrality of materials such as burlap in the installation Sound of the Womb refers to the body itself, divested of investiture, represented abstractly, deprived of all content, and referred to a space of contemplation in which what is important is not the social content but the bare perception of its form, feminized on this occasion through sound: the complementary audio is the sound of falling drops of water, building a representation of the fluidity of the female body. Here repetition enhances the common strength in a piece that suggests a mode of recognition of the nature of the being, which in the case of Schnall, does not fear to assert an ontology that turns out to be more powerful as it repeats forms as modes of connection with the essential bond with other women. The aesthetic, more minimalistic here than in other works, contains however a gender alliance. 

Schnall also breaks certain cycles that occur once and again − like the allusion to the endless trade of folding clothes which was for a long time a role attributed to women − using the recourse to repetition but in participatory processes that arouse a renovating conscience. Thus The Package Project, comprised of paper envelopes covered in wax, sealed, and not meant for any form of mail art but to build a stacked-up installation, challenges the closed notion of authorship and the perception of roles. To assemble this work she invited other persons − initially only women, but later also men  − to wax, crumple, smooth, fold, tie and knot the packages, or envelopes, many times including personal notes wrapped inside, which remained hidden inside the work. “This simple act of writing these thoughts down and giving them away, however, has a very powerful and liberating effect on people.  The packages will continue to grow, and the energies of the participants will remain inside them… I feel that once the packages are all together, the energy evoked by the hundreds of personal human thoughts will be felt by those that view and understand this piece”, says the artist.

Thus the process of repetition, which may refer to the domestic routine surrounded by processes carried out once and again − and which although they might constitute an organized order, may also constitute imposed forms, asphyxiating molds − becomes a liberating resource contributing a language under construction that goes beyond self-referential inquiry to nourish the imaginaries in transit of women in the third millennium.

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Woman: Body, Maps. and Territories
by Janet Batet

 

El Nuevo Herald

February 2013

Woman: Body, Maps, and Territories

 

by Janet Batet

 (English translation from original Spanish text)

 

The image of women has been a constant since the first human representations. From the Venus de Düsseldorf, where the features of wide hips and taper of the figure of the woman were associated with fertility, through the Venus de Milo, the epitome of the canons of Greek classical beauty that will persist for centuries as the ideal of feminine beauty. However, even though women appear from the beginning of the history of art as one of the major themes of representation, the incursion in the female problems and from the female perspective is a relatively recent fact.

 

Numerous socio-historical factors predetermine the near-absence of women artists throughout the history of art, emphasizing in the first instance the patriarchal structure that still holds our society and where gender stereotypes predetermined social roles. The very notion of genius, long associated with the artistic endeavor and the masculine gender, excluded women from purely artistic areas, appearing more linked to the craft and thus creations, to anonymity. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, many women worked in the creation of works in the guilds or artists workshops, however, by the same structure of the workshop, their names remained hidden after the head of the workshop, which was the only one authorized to the authorship of the work. Another major impediment to these creations' location facing contemporary historiography is the widespread tradition of changing names to adopt the surname of the husband of the woman in marriage. It is no coincidence that you have to wait until the twentieth century and feminist revolutions to make art eco and participation of female problems that go beyond the mere subject, embodiment of an ideal of beauty. Art, progressively, reacts against heteronormativity assumed not only as sexual orientation but as a reaction against prevailing stereotypes such as racism, sexism, classism, etc. — that had prevailed in the reading and validation of art so far.

 

Body, map, and territory: Personal Geographies, a statement by Aluna Curatorial Collective (collective curatorial Adriana Herrera and Willy Castellanos) is an interesting show that includes the work of four women artists that explore the female body as territories to the investigation of the status of women. Herrera and Castellanos took as a starting point for the iconic exhibition curatorship Eccentric Abstraction, organized by Lucy Lippard in 1966, which established fundamental directions of what later would be regarded as post-minimalism, processual art, and anti-form art.

 

In the Central rooms of body, map, and territory: personal geographies, unfold the proposals of Patricia Schnall Gutiérrez and Chris Radtke, who through the post-minimalist legacy, explore the feminine universe. With a direct connection to the work of Eva Hesse, Schnall's proposal is based on the element serial key to the evisceration of the domestic universe traditionally associated with women. In contrast to the minimalist taste for aseptic industrial materials, Schnall used garbage bags, scrubbing, washing machines, paper, and sacks of burlap as raw material for his work.

 

In Saks, the installation that opens the show, Schnall presents a row of sacks of burlap that hang from the wall and suggest the silhouette of the pregnant woman. Aqueous reminiscence and the sound of the water, stress the idea that animates this refined installation that runs about the reproductive role of women and the association of females, with fluids such as menstruation, amniotic fluid, or breast milk. Right next to this piece, The Package Project consists of piles of waxed paper carefully folded in sequential order. The piece is participatory - Schnall invites participants to perform the making of each of these bound packages, containing personal notes which will be never read - and reflects on the displacement of the authorship and repetitive household chores after which silence has many of the feminine aspirations.

 

Chris Radtke, on the other hand, presents refined geometric abstractions of his own body. Each one of his sculptural installations is an echo of the dimensions of the artist and its insertion in space physics. Passable, these facilities often an allegory about notions such as presence and absence, sexuality, fertility and aging.

 

Flight [Hospital Bed] Series, of María Martínez-Caña it is welcomed in the intimacy of a closed room. The overwhelming series of eleven photographs on canvas, repeated the silhouette of the artist in the fetal position, covered by a blanket and surrounded by natural elements. The series, inspired by the loss of a great friend and artist, Carlos Alfonzo, becomes intimate pain bias, while apprehension to life.

For his part, Bravo Carola, Swept Space, video installation is a successful comment about the construction of maps in both fictional territories that define the human. The silhouette of the artist, projected in real time and work, creates an interesting counterpoint between reality and representation, presence, absence, expectations and disillusionment.



Body, map and territory: personal geographies is a stimulating essay on female condition and creation.

Janet Batet is a writer, curator and art critic of art for various publications, galleries and museums.

' Body, map and territory: personal geographies ', until the 28th of February in Aluna Art Foundation, 172 West Flagler, Miami, Fl, 33130, (305) 305-6471

 

 

ORIGINAL TEXT IN SPANISH

La Mujer: Cuerpo, Mapa y Territorio

 

JANET BATET

ESPECIAL/EL NUEVO HERALD

 

La imagen de la mujer ha sido una constante desde las primeras representaciones humanas. Desde la Venus de Dusseldorf, donde los rasgos de caderas anchas y la forma cónica de la figura de la mujer se asociaban a fertilidad, pasando por la Venus de Milo, epítome de los cánones de belleza clásica griega que persistirán por siglos como ideal de la belleza femenina. Sin embargo, aún cuando la mujer aparece desde los comienzos de la Historia del Arte como uno de los grandes temas de representación, la incursión en la problemática femenina y desde la perspectiva femenina es un hecho relativamente reciente.

Existen numerosos factores socio-históricos que predeterminan la casi ausencia de mujeres artistas a lo largo de la Historia del arte, destacando en primera instancia la estructura patriarcal sobre la que todavía hoy se sostiene nuestra sociedad y donde los estereotipos de género predeterminan los roles sociales. La misma noción de genio, largamente asociada al quehacer artístico y el género masculino, excluía a la mujeres de áreas netamente artísticas, apareciendo sus creaciones más ligadas a lo artesanal y, por ende, al anonimato. Durante la Edad Media y el Renacimiento, muchas mujeres trabajaron en la creación de obras en los gremios o talleres de artistas, sin embargo, por la misma estructura del taller, sus nombres quedaban ocultos tras el jefe de taller, que era el único autorizado a la autoría de la obra. Otro importante impedimento para la localización de estas creaciones que enfrenta la historiografía contemporánea es la extendida tradición de cambio de nombres al adoptar la mujer el apellido del esposo al contraer matrimonio.

No es casual que haya que esperar hasta el siglo XX y las revoluciones feministas para que el arte se haga eco y partícipe de problemáticas femeninas que van más allá del mero sujeto, encarnación de un ideal de belleza. El arte, progresivamente, reacciona contra la heteronormatividad asumida no únicamente como orientación sexual sino como reacción contra estereotipos dominantes tales como racismo, sexismo, clasismo, etc.– que había prevalecido en la lectura y validación del arte hasta el momento.

Cuerpo, mapa y territorio: geografías personales, exposición presentada por Aluna Curatorial Collective (colectivo curatorial integrado por Adriana Herrera y Willy Castellanos) es una interesante muestra que comprende el trabajo de cuatro artistas mujeres que exploran el cuerpo femenino como territorios propicios a la indagación de la condición femenina. Herrera y Castellanos toman como punto de partida para la curaduría la icónica exposición Eccentric Abstraction, organizada por Luccy Lippard en 1966, la cual estableció derroteros fundamentales de lo que posteriormente sería considerado como postminimalismo, arte procesual, el arte antiforma.

En las salas centrales de Cuerpo, mapa y territorio: geografías personales, se despliegan la propuestas de Patricia Schnall Gutiérrez y Chris Radtke, quienes a través del legado post-minimalista, exploran el universo femenino. Con una conexión directa a la obra de Eva Hesse, la propuesta de Schnall parte del elemento seriado como clave para el desentrañamiento del universo doméstico tradicionalmente asociado a la mujer. A diferencia del gusto minimalista por materiales industriales asépticos, Schnall utiliza bolsas de basura, esponjillas, máquinas de lavar, papel y sacos de arpillera como materia prima para su obra.

En Saks, la instalación que abre la muestra, Schnall nos presenta una hilera de sacos de arpillera que penden de la pared y sugieren la silueta de la mujer encinta. La reminiscencia acuosa y el sonido del agua enfatizan la idea que anima esta depurada instalación que discurre acerca del rol reproductivo de la mujer y la asociación del sexo femenino con fluidos tales como la menstruación, el líquido amniótico o la leche materna. Justo al lado de esta pieza, The Package Project, se compone de pilas de papel encerado cuidadosamente doblados en orden secuencial. La pieza de carácter participativo –Schnall invita a los participantes a realizar cada uno de estos cuidados atados que contienen notas personales que jamás serán leídas– reflexiona acerca del desplazamiento de la autoría y las labores repetitivas del hogar tras las que se silencian muchas de las aspiraciones femeninas.

Chris Radtke, por su parte, nos presenta depuradas abstracciones geométricas de su propio cuerpo. Cada una de sus instalaciones escultóricas es un eco de las dimensiones de físicas de la artista y su inserción en el espacio. Muchas veces transitables, estas instalaciones son una alegoría acerca de nociones tales como presencia y ausencia, sexualidad, fertilidad y envejecimiento.

Flight [Hospital Bed] Series, de María Martínez-Caña es acogida en la intimidad de una sala cerrada. La sobrecogedora serie de once fotografías sobre lienzo, repiten la silueta de la artista en posición fetal, cubierta por una sábana y rodeada de elementos naturales. La serie, inspirada por la pérdida de un gran amigo y artista, Carlos Alfonzo, deviene sesgo del dolor íntimo, al tiempo que aprehensión a la vida.

Por su parte, la instalación videográfica de Carola Bravo, Swept Space, constituye un acertado comentario acerca de la construcción de mapas en tanto territorios ficticios que definen al humano. La silueta de la artista, proyectada en tiempo real y en plena faena, crea un interesante contrapunto entre realidad y representación, presencia, ausencia, expectativas y desilusión.

Cuerpo, mapa y territorio: geografías personales constituye un estimulante ensayo acerca de la condición y la creación femeninas.

Janet Batet es escritora, curadora y crítica de arte. Escribe de arte para diferentes publicaciones, galerías y museos.

‘Cuerpo, mapa y territorio: geografías personales’, hasta el 28 de febrero en Aluna Art Foundation, 172 West Flagler, Miami, Fl, 33130, (305) 305-6471.

 

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Art Districts Magazine

Arts Districts Magazine

June/July 2012

Defying Expectations: The Art of Patricia Schnall Gutiérrez

 

By Irina Leyva-Pérez

 

 

Since the beginning of the feminist movement in the 1960s, many female artists have made the role of women in society the focus of their work. Perhaps the first image that comes to mind is Judy Chicago’s iconic The Dinner Party (1974-1979)1. The artist chooses to “invite” to her “dinner party” historically important women and paid homage to them in her triangular installation. This highly symbolic piece was the result of a collaborative effort in which many women lent their talents. Patricia Schnall Gutiérrez, like Chicago, has used what can be considered traditional feminine techniques in her work and also has made pieces in collaboration with other women. Folded, Tied, Knotted and Stacked-The Package Project (2010) is a good example of such a joint effort. For this piece, Schnall Gutiérrez worked with a group of women who folded and stacked paper similarly to clothes during the laundering process. The result is an arrangement of paper stacks of different sizes, but otherwise uniform in appearance. The intention is to comment on traditional tasks associated with women, how much of their vital time goes into them, and the anonymity of such work.

In 2011, she returned to collaborative projects. This time she teamed up with two other artists who shared a similar kindliness to the subject, Marina Font and Rhonda Mitrani, in what they called RPM Project (following their initials) and produced a multimedia piece titled 2407 Ave. - The House Inside My Head. The piece combined performance and video and once more showed simulated household tasks shared by women (the artists). Again, inspired by the consuming domestic task of doing laundry, the artists mimicked parts of it interacting with each other. They built a 10-foot by 10-foot house to “frame” the scene, and inside there was a projection on a split-screen that showed the three women folding clothes. A set of speakers broadcast the sound of women talking, like the occasional conversation that could make the routine bearable. Upon entering space, the viewer enjoyed a multisensory experience, comprised of smells, sounds, and images. The piece was presented at the 2011 Wynwood Art Fair, where the artists also performed and even encouraged the public to participate.

A native of Buffalo, New York, Schnall Gutiérrez studied at the State University of New York (SUNY) from 1973 to 1977. In 1988, she attended the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture. Her academic background prepared her to tackle different media, so it is not a surprise that she has tried her hands at painting, sculpture, and installations.

Her paintings seem as if they come directly from her subconscious, like juxtapositions of fragments of her life. Earlier pieces showed a conceptual approach that she has left behind in favor of a more personal account of events. For example, her series Diva, from 2010, was inspired by her contact with a girl named Diva, of whom the artist took photographs with her mother. The Diva series shows a character (the girl) to represent the struggles of girls whose skills and real possibilities might not meet expectations, and how she is trying to cope with both. Dressed as a ballerina in each piece, she faces a variety of struggles: For instance, in Diva 5, she confronts the pressure of diets, while in Diva 3 she is shown in a defensive position. The second piece inspired by this encounter, Learned Behavior (2011), studies the relationship between mothers and daughters in a way a reflection of her relationship with her own daughter. The series of paintings and drawings become a sort of scrapbook filled with pieces of objects, including some of Diva’s mother’s hair.

Schnall Gutiérrez’s sculptures stand out for their organic forms. The asymmetry of the pieces and the textures remind us of Eva Hesse’s work, especially Descent Home (2011), a beautiful group of vessels made out of paper and wax. Little Dresses (2010) is another installation based on sculptures of similar materials. The series of 10 dresses represent girls in processions, which could be real or imaginary-” Whether these processions were in schools or religious institutions, each of these little girls, slightly different, but all vulnerable, emotionally and physically, follow their lead into the expectations of society and religion”2

The artist’s drive to experiment with unusual materials guides her selections, and in the process becomes a conscious exercise for her. She works with some materials that could be considered unsuitable for a sculpture, such as paper, wax, twine, or steel fiber. However, she is not interested in projecting fragility or the ephemeral passage of time, which could be the first conclusion reached by glancing at it. Rather, she is more interested in challenging us from a tactile point of view, engaging our attention in forms. The visible dichotomy between form and concept creates a constant tension in her work, between the delicacy of the materials and the strength and complexity of the concept behind them. While other artists resort to using elements of shock, Schnall Gutiérrez favors a subtle and intimate approach to the subject, supported by the qualities of the materials. Her work uncovers the intense emotions that women feel in the intimacy of their homes and the overwhelming tasks that derive from keeping a house and a family. The

vulnerability that they experience is portrayed in the seemingly fragile pieces, which, despite appearances, endure through time.

But not all of her work is that subtle. In 2010, she participated in the exhibition “Sin” at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami, presenting Rope and Stool, one of her most powerful works to date. Using her flair for drama, she delivered a captivating performance in which she stood up on a stool with a rope at her neck, simulating a suicide. The intensity of the scene, the silence of those viewing it, and the accompanying tension they felt brought a good deal of controversy. The overpowering image stirred up sentiments of guilt, helplessness, and ultimately redemption. All matters of associations come to mind when looking at photos of the performance, but ultimately, the artist’s limp body becomes the lasting memory of women who have committed suicide.

This year, Schnall Gutiérrez completed Sacks, a minimalist installation that combines objects and sound. Made out of seven burlap pieces simulating female torsos, the work studies the concept of reproduction and what that means for women. A wooden drain under the torsos replicates a receptacle, place there to collect fluid (evoked by sound) dripping from them. The alarming pristine setting of the piece allows viewers to construct their own narrative while the persistent sound of the dripping creates a cacophony in the background. This piece was selected for the 2012 Biennial: Florida Installation Art at the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Florida.

Schnall Gutiérrez’s work is mostly autobiographical, and her inspiration comes from personal experiences. In the late 1990s, she found herself at a juncture in her life in which she was confronted with the realities of being a mother and an artist and having to balance both roles. Consequently, her oeuvre appeals to other women who might find themselves in analogous circumstances. Ultimately, this is perhaps the thread that connects all of her work: the role of women and the preconceived notions embedded in our society that they must face and conquer.  This theme is particularly evident in her piece Behind Our Tutus (2010), in which she mixes images of women she knows (family, friends) with others randomly chosen from different walks of life (teachers, students, prostitutes, etc.), all dressed in ballerina garments. Schnall Gutiérrez uses these outfits to talk about identity, and the tutu becomes a symbol of the expectations society has for all women. She reflects on how many girls are indoctrinated with the “ballerina syndrome,” which brings on distorted physical and professional beliefs of what the perfect woman should be.

She is calling our attention to the dangerous duality that could arise from the domestic environment, despite of the so-called social equity. These circumstances create dilemmas for women such as what would be more important: being a mother or a professional, when in fact both can be achieved and could be equally fulfilling. Although her work can be perceived as feminist, it is not in the strict sense of the term. She looks beyond the forces of the original women’s movement to offer a more intimate account of their plight. Her work becomes an affirmation, a gesture that seems to say: I am here and this is my story. It might be yours as well.

 

NOTES

1. Judy Chicago. Dinner Party (1974-79). Ceramic, porcelain, textile, 576 x 576 inches (1463 x 1463 cm). Brooklyn Museum, New York.

2. Excerpt from an interview with the artist, May 2012.

Irina Leyva Pérez is an art historian and critic based in Miami. She is the curator of Pan American Art Projects.

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AAL Arte AL Limite

AALArte AL Limite

March/April 2016

Patricia Schnall - The Feminine Condition

By: Luciana Acuna, Curator and Art Critic ( Argentina)

Multi-faceted, Schnall ́s work travels through different formats such as drawing, performance, painting, sculpting or video. Her personal universe suggests different perspectives on the inquiry of the feminine condition.

 

It is not by chance that one of the formats the artist chooses is performance; the body from this perspective becomes a territory of an investigation. When it comes to unraveling meaning and senses behind her work, the personal universe of the artist evidences a previous knowledge, however, the referential elements chosen by Schnall allow a subjectivity that is not misguided and is in tune with what she suggests.

In many aspects, her work ́s corpus could be linked to artistic affiliations related to anti-form and a kind of minimalism; however, the materials the artist chooses to develop her work are far from the industrialized coldness and refined forms characteristic of most Anglo-Saxon minimalism. In this particular case, waste materials contain an emotional burden, that could somehow be related to the informality of existentialism, to the scarcity of finite. This is why her creative process is decisive when it comes to explaining her work.

From generality, the use of serial could be related to that search to decipher women ́s everyday life, through a critical view of the traditional domestic world in which women ́s functions are scoped, because of the only fact of being conditioned by her genre. What happens with women's aspirations? Schnall's work proposes the silence of hopes that cannot be achieved only due to the fact

of being a woman, and how contemporary patriarchy is still an entrenched problem on both a cultural and worldwide level. ​

In regards to her personal universe, the artist comments that during an artistic residency in France, she learned about a group of women equivalent to troubadours. She then investigated about this particular group of women who lived in the Occitan region of what is nowadays southern France, during the twelfth and thirteen centuries, called the Trobairitz (female troubadours). Let ́s consider the following: if almost all the main museums of the world do not exhibit the work of female artists, what would happen to these musical revolutionaries during the fourteenth century in the genealogy of secular music? It makes sense to consider that the artist was seriously limited while she was gathering the necessary material for her investigation, and this was fundamental when conceiving her creative process since it pushed the vindication role of these women to a historical level.

Patricia Schnall could only have access to very few of the verses created by these females, and, therefore, the quest to rescue their identity became instinctive, and she decided to grant them a face. She portrayed them in a fictional way, achieving this vindication –by rescuing a fact of micro-history– emphasizing all women and the realities predestined to their condition. It is appropriate to highlight that her initial search is like a breeze of fresh air that – from contemporary art– allows us to become acquainted with these historical tales silenced by the story about “the history of humanity.” It is in this point where Schnall becomes an activist in her artistic role of vindicating women historically in the construction of society, breaking away from patriarchal structures of meta-history.

Another jewel the artist comments resides on the inclusion of textile sewn to the portraits. At first site viewers can relate this to the more traditional labors of sewing in the feminine world, and I must confess that on a first insight I personally made an association between the stitches and the oppression that links women to an “angel of home” role, a drawing contained in the sharp reality of a piece of real seam and the drawing, on its hand, as a space of freedom on another substratum of perception.

Part of her diverse investigations made Schnall learn about a particular fact about the Occitan zone of Paris during the thirteenth century, where women landowners whose husbands had died on the crusades had no right to demand anything because, as a catholic bishop stated: “They had to go home and take care of their sewing labors, and quit minding men ́s businesses”. These, and many other inquiries, are why the artist decided to use the images of the animal bestiary of the middle ages to exemplify the thinking order established by the Catholic Church. This is why the artist contacted Gilles Bancarel, who is responsible for administrating and directing the file department of historical books in the CIRDOC mediatheque, in Bezier, to access first-hand mythical books. From there he comments that the conceptions of good and evil, power and weakness, morality and immorality are representations that never stopped living on the cultural, anthropological and psychological horizon of the Western world.

These drawings went through a long process, during which the artist experienced a series of modifications through which faces became androgynous and at the same time intervened them with pieces of fabric from her own clothes; it is not a casualty that she uses the term “stripped” since, at present, even though the female gender has improved in some ways, others sill remain as barriers and obstacles.

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Woman Behind the Threads
 

Woman Behind the Threads

April 27, 2017 - June 22, 2017

 

by Micah Oelze

 

 

    Miami, April 7, 2017 — In the past decade, galleries nationally (Design without End, The MET, 2008) and locally (Threads of Connection, Steinbaum, 2017) have made it clear that textile work is second to none among the fine arts, and that it can no longer be considered woman’s work. Artists across gender lines have increasingly turned to embroidery, sewing, and weaving for the intricacy they display and emotional response they draw. These interventions are welcome and necessary. 

 

    Yet historically, textile production has been quite gendered. In the home and in the mill, women spent their entire lives and careers working with fabric. The familiarity with needle and loom brought women to inhabit a series of gendered metaphors related to fabric. Women saw themselves as weavers of the family, creators of social networks, and spinners of yarns. Woman Behind the Threads presents some thirty drawings, installations, textiles, and embroideries from four female artists who have explored these metaphors by stitching them right back into the fabric. 

 

    Then, the artists recognize that women have historically employed the canvas to frame particularly feminine political critiques. Textiles, when worn on the body, have allowed such critiques to transgress the boundary of the home, and to enter the public—and even international—political sphere, in cases where women’s claims would otherwise be excluded. The artists here, from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and the United States, bring a hemispheric perspective to the gallery, continuing what women in the last half-century have done across the Americas. We see that the key threads of this exposition are indeed those encountered across the Americas. Women in 1970s Chile, for example, sewed arpilleras (appliqués on burlap) depicting those husbands and sons “disappeared” by the military regime during the Dirty War. The arpilleras featured domestic scenes, preserved memory, and transgressed national borders as they were smuggled out of the country to bring international attention to the killings. These very conceptual threads—of family bonds, memory, and political critique—serve as the warp of this show. Running through them, as weft, are inquiries into materiality, frames, and forms. The result, we see, is a dense and colorful tapestry. And in spaces throughout the gallery, the artists have used cutwork or even unraveled their canvas, in order that we may see the woman behind the threads.

 

    Marina Font (b. 1970, Argentina),  in “The Evolution of the Woman Kind,” captures the stages of a woman’s life through the window of intimate garments. Connecting the pictures is a clothesline, a domestic representation of the mother thread of life. From that thread, hang our experiences, especially those in which we were most intimate or vulnerable.

 

    The notion of life as a thread provides helpful context as we engage Font’s other works. In “Fiesta,” we see the threads of new life—which could be children or ideas (what are ideas other than intellectual children?)—pouring forth from the woman’s creative centers: first the female sex, then the heart, finally the head, all contributing to the V-shaped fount. (Marina Font has no problem exploring the fountain for its symbolic meanings alongside enjoying it as a graphic signature of her own name). In “Red Net” and “Red Hair” the mother thread of life is turned a crimson red, which seems an explicit representation of the family bloodline. The bloodline comes from the spinneret wombs of Font’s protagonists, who themselves weave the yarn into complex webs. These remind us of the great artist Louis Bourgeois, the “Spiderwoman,” whose late sculptures presented maternity as a spiderly vocation involving weaving webs of protection and attacking those who would threaten the domestic space.

 

     Font differs from Bourgeois in her presentation of the female body. The women on canvases here are presented in naked monochrome. They are made anonymous by the webs they weave. Most interesting is the posture that these women share. The hands are open, outstretched. If raised a little higher, the outstretched hands would make us think of the form of a cross, and the sanguine threads would invite the viewer to reflect on the sacrifices that characterize motherhood. But Font’s work is anything but a Passion. The fountains of life that exude from these woman highlight the inexhaustible. Each woman’s hands, outstretched with palms face up, portray a commitment to generosity to the next generation.

 

    The metaphor of the mother thread of life runs also throughout the “Intimacy Series” by Aurora Molina (b. 1984, La Havana, Cuba). One of the pieces, “Unraveling,” features a young girl reaching up to kiss her grandmother. The stitchwork furthers the narrative: Molina has used knots and loose stitching all around Grandma’s body and blankets, a visual demonstration that that the grandmother’s very life is unraveling. Yet even as the stitches unravel, they extend down and envelope the girl. It is as if the grandchild’s life thread has become inextricably bound up with that of her grandmother.

 

    The same canvas pulls our vision to the right, to the space in which the canvas itself has been unraveled, exposing a second image of the grandmother behind the threads. With all the weft threads left dangling, the viewer is forced to recognize that the canvas itself is a textile. This unraveling of the canvas is significant. Historically, canvas served as the untouchable foundation on which artists constructed life. The twentieth century brought artists that challenged those foundations: Jackson Pollack loosed the canvas from its frame and Lucio Fontana slashed the canvas itself, highlighting the gaping holes behind our metanarratives. But Molina has engaged a more rigorous project. Thread by thread, she has undone the stitching. When she is done, we recognize that the canvas is a textile. Our very foundations have been woven, and there is a woman behind the threads.

 

    Here that woman appears to be Molina’s grandmother, who spent much of her time behind an old Singer sewing machine, making and mending clothes for the family. Molina grew up in a time and place (1990s Cuba) in which clothes were not disposable. Every repair—a patch, a sewn-up tear—became a memory, not only of the incident but also of the spider woman who remedied the gap with her weaving powers. Now we see that the daughter is literally bound up with her grandmother’s thread since it is now stitched in her very clothes. 

 

    In the same series, we see “Bedtime Stories,” in which the canvas is covered in a pink fabric with small flowers. The embroidery takes place on top of this, on a handkerchief left behind by Molina’s grandmother. In the embroidered scene, grandma is lying in bed, with the little girl is reading aloud the story of Sleeping Beauty.  The grandmother listens intently to a story that she recognizes is no longer a fairytale; she knows she will soon leave this world by falling into eternal slumber. Molina, instead of finishing the work, has decided to leave the needle in the kerchief.  In the needle, we sense the proximity of death’s prick, but we are equally reminded that this work is still being woven. The needle is an invitation to the young girl to pick up where her grandmother left off and to continue to sew the family’s tapestry, weaving new generations and new memories.

 

    Patricia Schnall Gutierrez (b. Buffalo, New York, USA) presents works from her “Trobairitz” collection, a series of portraits created with charcoal and embroidery on canvas. The drawings pay homage to a group of female poets in twelfth-century Southern France. Gutierrez conducted research in the region and learned of the cohort when she stumbled upon uncatalogued documents in the back of an archive. She was surprised when she read the songs of the poets, which contained veiled criticisms of husbands and, on occasion, even declarations of love for other women. The poets later came under attack by the local church, and their work was relegated to the unwritten pages of history. 

 

    While the portraits themselves give these women clear historical and artistic recognition, the choice of materials creates a debate about the nature of historical memory. The bold charcoal eyes insist on being remembered, while the blank paper background suggests that the women have already been forgotten. Charcoal itself is easily smeared away, reminding the viewer of the fragility of immortality. And paper, so easily burned up, cannot be any more eternal. But then again, charcoal has already been burned, and it was the very burning that gave it its artistic potency.  It seems that only in the gestalt of the charcoal with the paper can we understand how history endures, that is, the legacy with which the poets entrust us: to convey with supple verse the intransigence of our demand to be seen. 

 

    Such a message seems to resonate with the final material of the series: embroidery. The pieces attached to the heads of the poets are called Richelieu, in honor of the French Cardinal who made the decorative cutwork ubiquitous in his seventeenth-century quest to turn France into a cultural capital. Gutierrez, in crowning these French women with Richelieu embroidery, may be pointing to these poets as the forebears of the French cultural tradition grown under the cardinal and culminating in the patronage of Sun King Louis XIV. No history textbook, yet, has dared to give an anonymous group of twelfth-century women the credit lavished upon these latter male patrons of the arts. But this is precisely the problem that the artists here are addressing in their turn to fabric. This is because once viewers affirm textiles are fine art, they are ready to recognize that the world owes so much of its cultural patrimony to the women that have served as unknown makers. 

 

    The artists here have tried to lead us to conclusions through the very materiality of the embroidery. Richelieu is cutwork, which means that the fabric is sewed up around a series of cuts. The result is a veil with so many holes that it calls attention to the face behind it. Every artist in this exposition uses cutwork for this reason, beckoning us to focus on the faces and forms of women who have too often been hidden in history.

 

    Karla Caprali (b. 1971, Belem, Brazil) presents work that explores family and memory with stitching and embroidery techniques that resonate with the rest of the collection presented here. She then furthers the artistic conversation with an attention towards icons and original framing. These are evident in the politically-charged “The Fucked Up Deal,” a series of embroidered canvases framed inside wire coat hangers. In the central work of the series, “Fucked Up Deal #3,” a young lady lies in sleep, just after a snake's bite. Stitched inside the hanger is a feminist pennant offered as a response to an earlier flag that long has been waved over this country.

 

    In 1775, American patriots interested in separation from Britain created the Gadsden flag, featuring a rattlesnake shouting “Don't Tread on Me.” Since then, the snake has often served as a symbol of the United States government. Caprali here is first reminding viewers of a historical point: the snake used its newfound liberty to tread over women. It rattled at any woman daring to venture out of the cult of domesticity and lashed out at those demanding political inclusion. The bites continue in the present, notes Caprali, as the Trump administration flies its Gadsden against anyone who believes a healthcare system should include sexual and reproductive health. Slashing funds and institutions that support reproductive health leads to the kinds of dark outcomes suggested by Caprali’s wireframes. Every year across the world, seventy-thousand women die from back alley abortions, many of these induced by wire hanger. Most of the these occur in developed countries including the US. As we walk away, the wireframes hang heavy on the clothesline of our nation’s mother thread of life, which bends with the weight. Gadsen’s snake distances himself from the atrocity with which he is complicit, with only a smirk and a smug air of moral superiority. But not all is lost. Caprali’s protagonist may only be sleeping, prepared to offer a new prophecy to the Genesis snake: “I shall rise again, and crush thy head with my heels.”

 

    Political protest takes on added significance when done on textiles, especially today as political movements become increasingly organized on the grassroots level and through social media. This is precisely the gendered metaphors bound up with cloth that serve also a guide for realizing equality. To achieve a democracy that extends full citizenship and social recognition to women and minorities, we must have tightly-stitched networks committed to strengthening the social fabric.

 

    Within the walls of this gallery, we are invited to see through the gaps in the cloth, to look at the women behind the threads. But when we leave, we must recognize that weaving is the responsibility of men and women alike. This is because every human life is interconnected. It is only by protecting our neighbor’s thread that we prevent our threads from being the next to unravel..

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Deacon, Deborah and Paula E. Calvin. War Imagery in Women's Textiles: An International Study of Weaving, Knitting, Sewing, Quilting, Rug Making and Other Fabric Arts. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2014.

Faris, Jaimey Hamilton. Uncommon Goods. Bristol: Intellect, 2014. 

World Health Organization. “Unsafe Abortion: The Preventable Pandemic,” The Lancet Sexual and Reproductive Health Series, October 2006.

 

 

Micah Oelze, PhD, is an intellectual historian and cultural critic committed to using education and the arts to raise up scholars and strengthen local communities. By day, he teaches at Miami’s Florida International University. At night, he writes art criticism and history

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=h6RcvjSaonk

 

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