Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 4, 2006
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
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Dan Stefik
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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  Arts Editor
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  Past Artists
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Les Cosgrove
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Guy Benson
Eric Bertrand
Lyne Bastien
Kapal Harnal
Nguyen Tai
Magdalena Magiera
Charles Malinksy
Marc Fortier
Bernard Dubé
Remigio Valdes de Hoyos
Mylène Gervais
Christina Coleman
Laura Hollick
Louise Jalbert
Rosemary Scanlon
Rosemary Scanlon
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Kristen Pauch-Nolin is a Winnipeg artist, curator, and a regular contributor to Galleries West and Uptown magazines.

Over the past four decades the feminist movement has broken barriers by having both women and craft practice recognized within the art world. Activities such as embroidery, fibre arts, ceramics, and jewellery-making -- frequently regarded as women’s busy work -- now inhabit contemporary art discourse. For women artists, the association of craft practices with female culture continues to provide an opportunity to create female images and explore issues of significance to women, using media that has great significance within their distinct history.

Informed by both current feminist discourse and art theory, Manitoba artists Cecile Clayton-Gouthro, Margi Hennen, JoAnna Lange and Aliza Amihude, produce works of art that allow the processes and materials used in the creation of their pieces to have conceptual significance. Working with thread, clay, fibre and metal each artist creates contemporary and transcendent works of art that are easily classified as both feminist and craft.

Cecile Clayton-Gouthro chronicles the lives of women through the creation of beautifully crafted thread drawings. Each of the drawings measures approximately 3" x 4" and includes a precisely rendered image inspired by life. Visual interpretations of two such encounters -- the first featuring a middle aged female motorcyclist and the second the memory of a wedding that she attended as a child -- result in captivating and challenging works of art.

Each of the pieces is carefully drawn by hand, using a needle and a variety of silk and cotton threads to form an image. As each drawing emerges, Cecile allows the physical act of stitching and the weave of the fabric to influence the features, activities and even the gender of her characters.

In "Born on a Friday," Cecile presents the image of a strikingly strong woman clothed in leathers and a skull cap, engaged in a game of bowling. Here the character, inspired by the artist’s encounter with a woman and her motorcycle, captures our imagination with the spiritedness and unorthodox appearance of the main subject. Her full body and proud stance signal a complete strength usually reserved for images of men.

Cecile Clayton-Gouthro - Born on a Friday

The juxtaposition of the physicality of the female subject against the delicacy of the materials used to create the work reinforces the piece’s ability to circumvent existing notions about women and embroidery. “Born on a Friday” successfully challenges any remaining preconceptions of females as pacifists and about embroidery as simply a woman's pastime.

The significance of both the subject and the media is once again essential in accessing the meaning of Cecile’s “Bow Tied.” Similar to “Born on a Friday,” the piece includes the central image of a female figure drawn using a variety of coloured silk threads.

Cecile Clayton-Gouthro - Bow Tied

The composition is central and formal including a bride, a dog, a bird and a young girl. In stark contrast to our expectation of sentimentality based on the matrimonial theme, the presentation of the bride is stiff and expressionless. It is an odd and generic representation rather than a portrait of someone specific. Contributing to the unusualness, the inclusion of animals in the grouping suggests additional symbolic possibilities.

Both “Born on a Friday” and “Bow Tied” demonstrate the ability of embroidery to function as a powerful and multi-capable art media. By exploiting both its historical significance and its communicative potential, Cecile is able create a contemporary work of art that celebrates the lives of women in a media that is significant to their history.

Doll maker Margie Hennen similarly views her work as an opportunity to "chronicle and celebrate women's lives." Her work involves the construction of female forms out of a variety of fabrics and found objects.

Each piece begins with an idea inspired by an event, person or experience which is developed through the construction of her work. Fashioned out of fabric that has been intensely manipulated by dying, painting, printing etc. the finished works evolve into animated, politically charged doll sculptures.

As a maker of dolls, she allows the strong associations with the objects that she creates to contribute to the works’ conceptual meaning. Traditionally, dolls are objects that inhabit female culture. They function as purely decorative pieces, are used as security objects or are employed as maternal training tools for young girls. Margie exploits the power and universality of these associations to create contemporary art work that advances her strongly feminist views.

“Endangered Species,” presents three outfitted female figures using boldly patterned fabrics and constructed in the shape of diamonds. Each piece is individually titled with a combination of two words. First, the adjective fat appears in crude reference to the doll's physical size. It is followed by the name of a living species represented by a pattern appearing on the doll's dress.

Margie Hennen-Mother Warned me about Fishnet Stockings

Through this skillful combination of elements, Margie creates a compelling parallel between endangered ecological species and societal obsession with body transformation. As a result, “Endangered Species” reveals that as a result of contemporary culture’s preoccupation with thinness, women of larger stature are at risk of becoming both figuratively and literally extinct. Margie Hennen-Fallout Angel

Society’s obsession and lack of respect for women's bodies is once again called into question in “Diana." On a warm day in the Ephesian forest, Diana can unsnap her breasts, slip them into her tit bag and go on her way, offending no one. Here, the female form is shown naked from the waist up with multiple breasts fastened onto her torso with snaps. In her right hand she holds a bag, the eventual receptacle for her breasts once they are removed.

Exploring volatile issues through craft demonstrates the ability of the medium to present politically explosive subjects without becoming didactic. Margie’s confrontation of feminist concerns is unequivocal. Creating art out of objects so deeply entrenched within female experience results in work that by its very creation is political. The finished dolls exist as subversive tallis-objects capable of inciting reflection, dialogue and change.

The desire to enact change through the creation and presentation of craft objects also inspires ceramic artist JoAnna Lange’s installation pieces. Her sculptural works feature stylized clay women presented as multiples. Two of her most recent works, “Trophy Wives” and “Good Girls,” (à la Margie Hennen) explore issues related to society’s negative attitudes toward women and their bodies.

JoAnna Lange - Good Girls

Although clearly inspired by history, each of the pieces includes elements that position the work firmly within contemporary art practice. Each of the clay statuettes are unmistakable representations of modern women exploring current issues. The infusion of humour into the work through the playful rending of the clothing and facial features reinforces the very modern approach that the artist is taking.

JoAnna's installation “Trophy wives” features three groupings of such female forms. Each grouping includes four minimal, trophy inspired, fanciful clay statues. The statues appear as robust figurines, glazed with fired on gold lustre (24 carat) and embellished with floral decals. Naked to the waist, the addition of pendulous breasts and correctly placed genitals attached to the outside of their skirts comically emphasizes the gender of each statuette.

JoAnna Lange-Trophy Wives

With biting humour, these trophy women possess all of the attributes of age and maturity. In stark contrast to the expectation implied by the title, here it is mature women who are prized rather than their younger counterparts. In fact, JoAnna contends that it is not the second wife that is the trophy but the first. This contradiction succeeds in exposing an accepted societal hierarchy that values young women above those who are older and have more life experience.

Similarly, in “Good Girls,” JoAnna presents sculptural forms that challenge the marginal status of mature women by exposing existing stereotypes. Each of the three female figures appears sensibly dressed, adorned with recognizable domestic accoutrements, and with arms outstretched.

Each figure is symbolically located upon a cylindrical clay plinth with crowns resting on two of the three women’s heads. The location is intended to expose the irony that ‘being placed on a pedestal’confirms women's continued marginal position within contemporary society. Reinforced by the interruption of the pedestal’s smooth surface by nails, bits of clay or holes, we suspect that it is not respect but pretense and false promise that grant these women their high placement.

JoAnna Lange creates three dimensional representations of colloquial terms and misused expressions in clay, with the intention of exposing how language can contribute to the marginal placement of women within society. Created in clay, rather than in metal (more often used in traditional sculpture), she positions the work firmly within the craft tradition. Understood as a symbolic decision, a direct reference is made to the historic marginalization of craft within art practice and the marginalization or women within society.

Similarly, jeweller, sculptress and performance artist Aliza Amihude creates politically charged work with an awareness of her medium’s history and current significance. Two of her recent and controversial pieces “Pulled Pubes” and “The Vertical Smile” are brazenly wearable celebrations of taboo and female-centric subject matter.

Produced as wearable art, Aliza’s pieces are created to visually and practically function as jewellery. However, by including undesirable and waste products in their construction, a compelling contradiction is created between the appeal of the objects and the repulsiveness of the materials that they include. Used as a device, the inevitable attraction/repulsion reaction by the viewing public is used to create a parallel between the work and societal views of women’s bodies.

Aliza Amihude-Pulled Pubes

Construction of each piece involves a combination of jeweller’s techniques, multi media manipulations and time-based performative actions. Found objects such as vinyl, human hair and cotton fibres are combined with more traditional jeweller’s materials such as silver, gold and precious stones. At the centre of each piece is a sculptural pendant that features an intimate portion of a woman’s body and functions as the visual and thematic focus of each piece. Clear vinyl tubing that is filled or pierced by found materials is used to support the pendants.

In the case of “Pulled Pubes,” a multi media construction, human pubic hair is used in the construction of a beautifully crafted and functional necklace/belt. The work features a sterling silver pendant in the shape of a woman’s pubic area supported by vinyl tubing filled with pubic hair. Dichotomous, the piece is equally beautiful (with its precious metal and stones) and repulsive (full of body hair).

Aliza Amihude

Equally unsettling, “The Vertical Smile” transforms the form of female genitals into a beautiful and wearable piece of jewellery. Similar to “Pulled Pubes,” the necklace/belt piece is constructed out of a combination of materials commonly used in jewellery production and found materials. In this case, the silver pendant takes the shape of a vagina with the vinyl tubing passing through the open labia. Signifying monthly menstruation, the vinyl tubing is pierced by hundreds of red cotton embroidery threads neatly tied at their ends.

Although stark, the strong craftspersonship and beauty of both works allow viewers to enjoy an aesthetic experience while considering the works’ larger meaning. The exploration of taboo subjects through the creation of beautiful objects results in work that transcends any possibility of it functioning merely for shock value. Instead, the work encourages the artist to openly question prevailing attitudes toward the female body, its parts and its functions.

Aliza Amihude, JoAnna Lange, Margie Hennen and Cecile Clayton-Gouthro celebrate the lives of women by directly exploring, exposing and confronting feminist issues. Creating contemporary works of art in mediums or processes traditionally associated with craft, a strong connection is made to the history of feminist art practice. Here, craft itself becomes as significant an element in the work as the subjects that the artists present. Either acknowledged as historically significant within female culture or used to draw a parallel between the historic exclusion of craft within high art and the continued marginal placement of women in society, the medium becomes part of the works’ overall message. = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting
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