The beginning of our epic journey is still somewhere in the future as my husband and I navigate the rocky world of vehicle buying. So far the search for our dream vehicle- a used Class B RV- has involved a number of close-but-not-quite situations and a lot of disappointments. (Including having another person buy an RV out from under us, and an itchy run in with cat hair and mold that I’d rather forget.) But we are holding our heads high, and hopefully the next RV that comes our way will be the right one. Fingers crossed!
So while we are dry-docked, I thought I might explore the art in our current place of residence (or our current crash pad, whatever you prefer)- Raleigh, North Carolina, my hometown.
Boy was I glad I did.
While out gallery hopping on First Friday I wandered into the Raleigh arts powerhouse ArtSpace; an art educational facility/ gallery space/studio complex that showcases the best that Raleigh has to offer. I saw a lot of great work at ArtSpace, but the work that spoke most strongly to me was the fleshy and feminine constructions of Meg Stein.
The first works of Stein’s that I encountered were “Heeling Wide Open” and “The Pearl in the Onion”, both diminutive found-object sculptures that were shown under glass domes in the front window of her studio, a presentation that accented their both their petite scale and their tongue-in-cheek delicacy. Both these works recall the sculptures of famed Surrealist Meret Oppenheim, especially in their witty juxtaposition of polite feminine signifiers with themes of labor, power, violence, and oppression (with a little base animal sexuality sprinkled in for good measure). But these self-contained little art bonbons didn’t prepare me for the fleshy orgy inside Stein’s studio.
The next work I was lucky enough to see was an abstract sculpture that really floored me with it’s visceral textures. “Untitled (Inside)” is a weird multi-limbed form that looks like a rabbit got into a serious accident with a nuclear reactor. The outside of the form is frosted with table salt and the inside is coated with fleshy silicone that has been tinted a shocking labial pink. This work is off-putting in the very best way, and the piece almost forces you to to peer inside its intimate pink interior, an act which feels more then a little dirty. This discomfort is emphasized by the white salt crust on the outside- salt has an association with purity in a kitchen-witchcraft kind of way, but the salt on this sculpture is a scabby, flaking application that just can’t be read as pure, even though the material is in direct conflict with the provocative pink silicone inside. The sculpture reminds you that in the battle between the gooey oozing flesh and the man-made concept of cleanliness and sanitation, the flesh will always prevail.
Speaking of cleanliness and sanitation, housekeeping seems to me to be a major theme in Meg Stein’s work. Many of the materials Stein uses can be found within the home, and often she references a particular kind of vintage feminism that simultaneously glorifies, laments, and deconstructs traditional women’s work. Her piece “Untitled (Round)” is straight from the linen closet, and the work echos the layout of a queen-size bed for two. The two round elements (which are the approximate size and weight of a human head and terminate in disconcertingly out-of-context taxidermied deer feet) are covered in powdered charcoal that visibly soils both the pillows and the sheets hung below. The viewer is almost overcome with a desire to wash the soiled sheets, taking on the role of Stein’s mythical housekeeper. Again, the implication is that the unclean flesh is unstoppable and that the work of the archetypal 50’s housewife is ultimately a Sisyphean task that fails to hold back the tides of deterioration and rot. In this way, the work acts as a modern memento mori.
In “The Way Down 2” a small end table is engulfed by an amorphous golden mass with tentacles. Each of these tentacles is tipped with a fake pear and a baby bottle nipple. The little end table symbolizes the concept of home, a more domestic piece of furniture can scarcely be imagined. But it is overwhelmed, almost entirely swallowed up by the gross gold mass. The gold mass topped with the fake fruit reminds me of ambrosia, the mythical food of the gods, a form of physical and spiritual sustenance that can be sucked from the nipple-tipped tentacles of the sculpture. This piece speaks of home in a more Freudian sense- before the home is a battleground for the housewife, the home is the place of nourishment for the child. But in “The Way Down 2” it is a false nourishment. The pears are faux fruit and the gold is liquid gilding. It reminds us that the our concept of home is an ideal, not a reality. “Home Sweet Home” and “Home is Where The Heart Is” are phrases that only go so far in Meg Stein’s work.
These sculptures are only a few of the works I saw at Stein’s studio, and if you’re interested, I suggest that you visit her website to check out more, because these pieces are really having a dialogue with each other. Walking into her studio was like walking into a conversation about Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique taking place between Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse. And the end result was as interesting as anything you could imagine.
Meg Stein is a very talented sculptor who is completing a Regional Emerging Artist Residency at ArtSpace in Raleigh, NC. (http://artspacenc.org/) If you want to see more work by Meg Stein, please check out her website at http://www.megstein.com. I will also be adding her website to my blogroll for later reference.