Friday, May 20, 2011

Catharsis in Houston's South Hamptons

by Dean Liscum

On Saturday, 5/14/11, two Houston artists, Sharon Kopriva and Julia Claire Wallace, with completely different styles and subjects working in completely different mediums exhibited cathartic works. Both shows happened to be in (or very near) Houston's South Hampton neighborhood, which has a reputation for many things but generally not for being populated by people who embrace "the process of bringing to the surface repressed emotions, complexes, and feelings in an effort to identify and relieve them, or the result of this process."

Sharon Kopriva exhibited her show "Cathedrals, Phantoms and Naked Dogs" at Colton & Farb Gallery on North street. Walking into the main gallery, it doesn't require great powers of perception to realize that Kopriva's work is very Catholic. A menagerie of priests, nuns, and penitents have dominated her paintings, sculptures, and installations throughout her career. This series is only slightly different, introducing phantoms and dogs sometimes in place of her clerical subjects and sometimes in the company of them. In some of the larger works, Kopriva has also expanded the interior scale of her work moving from the intimate spaces of the dais and the confessional to the public spaces of cathedrals and dark forests.

Her subject combined with an aesthetic derived from Peruvian mummies renders her figures horrific. They are both dessicated and skeletal, drained and devoid of the life and joy that the fat and happy Buddha represents.

Cardinal Conte and his canines, 2009

In an Artlies interview with Darryl Lauster entitled Catharsis: Sharon Kopriva, Kopriva corrects Lauster by labeling her work "cleansing." Semantics aside, Kopriva confronts and conquers. She intentionally recreates the dread in Catholicism's milieus of malevolence. Her works consist of cadaverous priests in the medieval environs in which holy retribution or divine reparations are extracted from the penitent. Kopriva doesn't dispute the crime. After all, Catholicism is the religion that first asserted that even the most innocent of children is born with an original sin. Her works never depict an actual transgression inflagrante delicto. No where in her oeuvre does she happily portray adultery or take up the cause of the just murder or even a long weekend of coveting. Instead, she's battles against what she fears, the judgement. Her method of attack involves recreating to de-mystify and disarm. These pieces ominously foreshadow the consequences of a contemplated crime against the cross. By metaphorically recreating the scenes that inspire these fears, she de-mystifies them, de-spelling the images of their power over her.  

I just hope the well-healed patrons of Colton-Farb who can afford to buy one of her works don't put it in the nursery or the kids play room because they want Jaxon or Blythe to be exposed to fine art and the colors of Cardinal Conte's vestment match the crown molding.

As Kopriva's work hints at the irony in art that the more personal an artist's work is the more universal it becomes, Julia Clare Wallace's work ass-ffirms it. Wallace's medium of choice is performance art/video. A quintessential work of Wallace is a performance piece in which she discusses her favorite color while a hard-core porn-style movie of her plays on a screen behind her. Just a few miles from North street, Wallace debuted a piece called "Hidden Pussy In the Workplace" in the show "For the Man...The 9 to 5 Show" curated by Stephanie Saint Sanchez at Gallery 1724.

To say that Wallace has issues about sex is to capture the essence of this project. The objective of this work is to shock with her sex. The piece consists of a set of picture post cards of (presumably) Wallace's pussy and a video of her hiding these post cards in various work environments such as a construction site and a hair salon. Patrons are encouraged to purchase the post cards ($3 each) or print them for free from the site,, and then document where they hide them.

Hidden Pussy in the Workplace, 2011
Wallace works with the borders of American sexual morays, identifying their limits and then gleefully leapfrogging over them. In contrast to Kopriva, Wallace is all about the act. She achieves catharsis by daring to do what is taboo. She transgresses. She flaunts her own genitalia to affirm sexuality.

However, the piece (and possible she as an artist on the subject) does not progress beyond catharsis over the shame of sex to celebrate it. In Hidden Pussy, the audience is asked to participate in the transgression by secreting and then documenting the workplace that they've "booty trapped." Presumably, this is so that the artist and others can imagine (even fantasize about) the shock and awe that discoveries of these post cards will produce. Unfortunately, the post card does not contain a note that invites the finder to go to the blog and describe the thrill they got from finding the pussy. Nor does it ask them to recall the first time or the most recent time they had sex at work. For me, the work doesn't push the pussy far enough in a good way. It doesn't use the conceit of the "hidden pussy" to serve as a mnemonic device to access or imagine gratifying/exhilarating sexual memories such as the first time the discoverer saw-touched-tasted-felt a/their pussy or the most luxuriant or enveloping, euphoric sexual experience they had.

And that's fine. Because sometimes, as these two artists demonstrate, you just gotta get the dread out.


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