Submitted by Justin Teerlinck.
The Body Beloved, the Body Betrayed is an art exhibit conceived and curated by Jennifer Preston Chushcoff, a South Sound artist and writer located in Gig Harbor. The project explores the relationship between mind, body and spirit. The eleven regional artists whose works are exhibited in the online gallery provide pieces representing a diverse array of media and perspectives from collage, to music, interpretive dance, painting, poetry and sculpture. Along with their biographies, artist statements provide an in-depth look at each artist’s intensions and inspirations for their work. The statements showcase a diversity of thought and sentiment that reflects the diversity in styles and media provided by each artist. Themes range from erotic sensuality to abuse, invasion of privacy and the relationship between the body and disability. Transcendence and redemption are themes echoed in many of the works, which also highlight the experiences of the artists.
A unique feature of this exhibit is the intensely personal nature of the works, some of which required a high degree of vulnerability and courage to explore what are at times, challenging and difficult subjects, especially where the artist has chosen to frame their own experiences with their works. While audience members might expect that each of the works explores the relationship between the individual artists and their own bodies, this is not always the case, with some works utilizing societal or cultural attitudes toward the body as their initial jumping off point.
An important aspect of this exhibit is its highly interactive nature. The curator has provided several discussion forums encouraging the community to offer their reactions to the featured artists’ works. Additionally, she invites other non-featured artists who were not part of the initial exhibit to contribute their work. Another forum thread asks the featured artists themselves to further discuss their works and answer questions from audience members and fellow artists. It will be interesting to see how these discussions evolve in the coming days as The Body Beloved, The Body Betrayed audience continues to expand. Some of the artists offer their work for sale. No commission fees are charged by the exhibition to the artists for the sale of their works and no admission fees are charged for participating in or viewing the exhibit.
What follows below is my layperson’s reaction to the works of several of the artists in the exhibit, chosen to represent the diversity of art forms and perspectives highlighted in the exhibit, as well as a my highly subjective opinion of the merits of the works presented. My reactions should not be viewed as authoritative. They are shared merely to further publicize the exhibit to a wider audience by offering a more in-depth analysis of the thought-provoking works. They also provide examples of the questions that art forces us to ask of ourselves and each other, especially, as the curator points out, “We are living through a pandemic, an era of emotional extremes.” Especially during periods of strife, art helps us make sense of incomprehensible realities and provides a common language through which we can discuss subjects that ordinarily divide us.
I was very impressed with Lilia Jackson’s The Dichotomy of Human Impact. It isn’t often anymore that artists are so intentional about deploying symbolism in their work, or making it a central feature of a piece. Her work hardens back to religious texts of old or illustrated monastic works. My immediate impression on seeing this piece was that I could envision the artist incorporating this into a series or as part of another tradition, such as a Tarot deck.
I was really surprised at how moved I was by the interpretive dance The Song of the Phoenix, by Hasani, since dance is the performing art I am least familiar with because I often do not find it personally relatable at all. For one thing, I was taken with the integration of the familial component; the collaboration between mother and daughter with song and dance was truly seamless. I was also moved by the artists’ statement. Of all the works featured in this exhibit, hers was the only one that dealt directly with the relationship between the body’s finite nature, and the relationship between the body and disability–difficult subjects to tackle, especially given the highly personal nature of the expression of feeling. On a more general note, transcendence is not an easy sentiment to express in art with authenticity. Both Hasani’s work and that of her daughter achieve this. The best art asks more questions than it answers, and in this work so many enigmas are expressed. Does illness and disability imprison us or free us? Does freedom of the mind and spirit increase as limitations on our bodies’ physical capacities increase? Is this the paradox of the aging body, of illness and disability? What is gained and learned by caring for someone with a disability? How do our relationships deepen? As a person who has advanced training in helping people adapt their lives to overcome challenges wrought by disability, I found myself oddly adrift and grasping for answers. Like great art, the beauty of life is that there are no ultimate answers, only the personal meanings we ascribe to our experiences upon reflection.
In addition to Hasani’s work, I found my gaze fixed upon The Weight of the Past Is An Untold Story, by Sharon Styer. Collage is an underrated art form, and because it is easy to learn, people assume it is easy to master, and thus great collage artists are often not given their rightful due. I hope that is not the case here, because Styer’s work is as haunting as it is meticulous. Again and again my eye is drawn to her keen sense of composition, the invisible line drawn between the faces and figures, and the yin and yang-like juxtaposition of faces facing the viewer and the full nude figure turning away. The faces of the child and the woman in the mirror seem to be expressing both sadness and frustrated resignation. A mask-like figure “looks” down at the scene from outside with an eyeless gaze. The nude woman does not look at the face in the mirror but stares into the washbasin. Does she see her own reflection, or is it muddied by soap and grime? The genius here is that because of their positioning, none of the figures can see each other. Combined with the spartan objects, a sense of melancholic alienation is what bleeds through the imagery. Are the faces and figures all reflections of different aspects of the same self? Is the self literally and figuratively “denuded” of self-awareness, and thus lost? The artist’s own statement about the piece notes an invasion of privacy, which I can see as well. It’s clear that vulnerability and exposure are also highlighted.
Of all the talent on display in this exhibit, I was most moved by the poems and sculpted torsos in Tina Lauzon’s I Am Tina: The Journey to Healing. The cynic in me is put off by words like “healing” and “journey.” A hallmark of much therapeutic art is that it doesn’t go beyond mere catharsis or connect to larger themes beyond the artist’s own experience. Lauzon’s mature, finely-crafted work is proof that this is not always so. One thing to be lauded in all therapeutic art, regardless of its artistic merits, is the courage required to be vulnerable and to even acknowledge the horrendous events that scar us. Here, Lauzon does that and so much more. While it is an interesting shape, the form of the human torso is demarcated by obvious physical boundaries that make it difficult for an individual artist to craft a truly unique use of that form with each new piece.
Therefore I was stunned by the sheer creativity, individuality, and quite frankly the unchecked audacity that the artist imparted to each of these explosively powerful pieces. Furthermore, the simplicity of her poetry seamlessly integrated with each torso, with the words and images enhancing the potency of each other. Often times, the marriage of radically different art forms feels ambitious, but forced and not quite right. Not so here. Although he was not a sculptor, something about both the visual symbolism in the torsos and the simple, direct and unflinchingly Christian themes in the poetry made me think again and again of the work of William Blake.
Like Blake, Lauzon’s work depicts agony, redemption and veneration of God. As an atheist, I was not expecting to find these themes relatable, even if I respected the craftsmanship of the work, but here again I was surprised at how at odds the prejudices of my expectations were with my actual reactions to the works. Upon further reflection, I believe that the artist’s focus is not really about having a relationship to God–though this is the psychological vehicle for giving legs to her themes. The theme of human suffering, of good and evil, of forgiveness, betrayal, and both the vile and the angelic deeds we visit upon one another are universal human archetypes. Ergo, they are very difficult to adequately encapsulate in a single work or set of works, but Lauzon’s work throws into the sharpest relief the contrasting dualities of suffering and the beauty of redemption. As such, her work is about far more than abuse, God or even her own healing, as inspiring as these themes may be on their own. The re-embodied and anonymous depictions on display in these poems and torsos depict nothing less than the essence of the human experience.
The Body Beloved, The Body Betrayed premiered on November 13th and runs through December 18th, 2020.