Sisterhood is Powerful, and so is Micol
I had occasion Monday morning, while walking around a fallow red pepper field in the cold of Gilroy, to talk with David about Micol Hebron’s recent exhibition, Sisterhood is Powerful, at Jancar Gallery in Chinatown. “It kind of blew me away, there were vaginas everywhere, in every possible medium from drawing to etching to engraving and painting, there were glued glitter modernist artwork vaginas, there was even a huge quartz crystal labia-grotto that poured pina colada’s, the drinks were perfect for a party if one chose to capture the sweet ‘lady piss’ in a stemmed glass and quaff with two cherries.”
David was pleased for Micol, and regretted having missed the show, “I was probably up here,” he said, “Damn! It sounds like the same sort of balls to the wall presentation she did back in 2001 at Cherry de los Reyes, with her Richard Hamilton ICA recreation and the Jackson Pollock video. That was such a great show.”
[Now that I have derailed my narrative by interjecting too much from the past, I am compelled to share Hebron’s Pollock moment with you. Briefly (and only as I recall things): Micol Hebron recreated in glitter about 100 masterpieces of Modern and Pop Art, she installed these salon style and the effect was…. glorious. The show was like a crazy holiday with relatives who drink for fun.
The heart of this operatic effort (in my mind) was Hebron’s video remake of the old Hans Namuth/Jackson Pollock film, the one with Namuth filming from under glass while Pollock does his paint dance, trickling and scattering the paint on the glazed surface. Hebron, biting an unfiltered butt in her teeth, squirted glue and drifted glitter, all the while speaking in a gruff, Jacksonian voice. Yes, my friends, my eyes were opened by this performance – for it was a performance I think, the paintings, the installation, and the video.]
But enough… about the past.
The many vaginas of Sisterhood is Powerful made me think that the Modernist impulse toward repetition can be considered a devotional and religious act. An artist makes, again and again, an image and an object. Perhaps during the making and remaking this artist begins to know the object the way ancient ascetics knew their god. A viewer also has this experience available, one of reverence and zen-like contemplation.
At Micol’s show, I felt like paying obeisance to some new idea of god, or perhaps a very old one. She. (My reference here to religion is in passing. A religiosity of art can be argued, but not here.)
Micol Hebron made very clear that a community of artists, a ‘sisterhood,’ made possible her ambitious project. This acknowledgement of a collaborative spirit feels Feminist in itself – not that I want to further a “girls play well with others, boys don’t” myth – but I learned, during a late night conversation with Alexandra Grant about her collaborative recreation with Channing Hansen of Faith Wilding’s Crocheted Environment, (titled Womb-Womb Room and installed at Night Gallery) that the openness of collaboration (in the case of Womb-Womb Room, with a man and other artist friends) can bring a quilting bee ethic to artistic practice and reclaim for Feminism the urge to gather and to make.
In a Facebook post, Micol made clear this experience of sharing in her collaboration, “The process of making this show was very interesting. I had a lot of help. Many friends (mostly LA Art Girls!) helped me – and I am VERY grateful. They offered hours of their time and talents, and helped me make the glitter paintings and the vageode. I had more help on this show than any other show, ever. And most of the help came from women (with the important exception of Tom Jancar! who was instrumental in building the vageode wall casing!).
When working with women friends in my studio, I began to notice that invariably, the conversations that came up while we were working centered around topics of sex, relationships, fears, the body, and feminine experience. I did not initiate these conversations intentionally, they just came up. It was such a valuable, telling, insightful series of conversations. I am so grateful for all that these women shared with me! I felt as if I was partaking in a series of consciousness raising sessions – talking about our subjective experiences as women.”
Sisterhood is Powerful honored a number of artists to whom Micol looks as heroes and exemplars, and she drew inspiration from the playful and incendiary acts of early Feminists: Tee Corinne’s 1975 Cunt Coloring Book, Mary Beth Edelson’s 1972 Last Supper poster, and Sylvia Sleigh’s repositioning of male and female figures in the objectifying gaze of art. She went a few steps further and grabbed hold of Andy Warhol’s Piss Paintings, collecting her own urine and painting with a mister bottle ‘portraits’ of female artists she admires on copper sheets.
As an artist, Micol Hebron often uses her work demonstratively: in an exhibition, individual works will demonstrate ideas, and serially, from one piece to the next, a conversation is formed and an argument is presented. The connection to her references is quite direct and not hidden: I can identify the remake of a Joseph Albers painting or a Frank Stella painting; over many centuries of art making by men, female space has been presented as alluring and with mystery – Micol Hebron’s banishment of mystery by replacing the demure feminine figure with a vagina brings all that old stuff to mind, as well as her more recent inspirations – the Feminists of the 1970s and 1980s.
This directness, the honesty with which this artist approaches making didactic work is satisfying and refreshing: satisfying because Hebron does her groundwork carefully and well: she clears away unnecessary intellectual underbrush, she relies on her audience to understand and to study on their own her sources, and she makes her case 1… 2… 3… with no muddying interjections from a self righteous place; and this work in Sisterhood is Powerful is refreshing exactly because it is didactic, and fearlessly so. This artist knows what she wants to say, clearly she believes that her explorations are worth sharing, and her impulse to share does not serve her ego through intellectual pretension and cultural superiority, rather her sharing comes of love – love of and respect for ideas, artists and viewers.
Sisterhood is Powerful was at Jancar Gallery from November 5 through December 10, 2011 http://www.jancargallery.com/show.php?num=222