Swell, Ten Years Later Announcement, 2006
Swell, 10 Years Later
New work by Amy Berk, Carolyn Castaño, and Megan Wilson
In 1996, Meridian Gallery presented the exhibition Swell: new work by Amy Berk, Carolyn Castaño and Megan Wilson , a humorous and glamourously serious take on femininity, its illusions, and its power in the 1990's.
Over the past ten years these three artists have continued to be close friends and periodic collaborators. Each has expanded and developed her personal relationship with and aesthetic vocabulary of the femme and beyond. In Swell, 10 Years Later, Berk, Castaño, and Wilson present their current work, a reflection of their personal and artistic evolution throughout the last decade.
The catalogue for Swell - Ten Years Later is available at LuLu.com.
Read Interview between Berk, Castaño, and Wilson here
Swell announcement, 1996
The concept of “Home” and its associations often guide my practice. Over the past ten years this interest in Home has frequently led me back to my original home of Montana, its culture, landscape, heritage, and my parents, who have each had a strong influence on my art making.
The culture of Billings, Montana is a mix of outdoor adventure, the old West, Indian customs, and a desire to emulate a modern metropolitan lifestyle. My experience growing up there mirrored these mores in a number of ways: 1) my parents were great outdoor enthusiasts and every weekend we were either hiking, cross country skiing, fishing, or rafting; 2) my father's family has been in Montana since the mid-1800's and the Western/cowboy heritage has always been a part of our lives – going to rodeos, Western attire, and listening to country music; 3) my best friends from elementary school through high school were Crow and Sioux Indians; and 4) my mother was obsessed with the design and decoration of our home. In addition, I was forced to move out on my own when I was 16 years old. I moved into an unfinished concrete basement that had little light and also acted as the laundry room for the owner of the house. My living space was an area of approximately 10' x 10'; I had an area rug, a bed, and a dresser. To support myself, I worked at Burger King 30 hours/week, while also attending high school.
All of these experiences have had a great influence on my work/life: I'm drawn to the natural world, its vastness, its beauty, and its hues of greens, yellows, browns, and the bright colors of wildflowers; I love the feminine ornamentation on Western wear and gear contrasted with the masculine identity of the cowboy, as well as the contrast of country music's lyrics of love and heartbreak with the notion of the stoic West; I've always been interested in race, class, and culture and how these different forms of identity affect individuals, communities, and society as a whole; I have a strong love of patterns, textiles, and interior environments; and I learned early on what it meant to struggle, work hard, and the necessity to create a comfortable and personal space in order to survive.
For Swell, Ten Years Later I'm creating two installations that are inspired by these early life-shaping experiences:
You're Not A Wave, You're The Water uses titles and lyrics from country music love songs that are branded into suede and stretched over wood. The collection is an homage to my love of this music genre and the Western heritage of my home in Montana.
Night Bloom is inspired by my love of patterns and textiles and the complex relationships and evolution between conventional/ structured practices and environments (physical and psychological) and those of a dissenting and organic nature. The landscape of Night Bloom is a fantastical flourish of colors, shapes, and textures that aims to give viewers the same experience of magical awe that one has in the Big Sky country.
Megan Wilson builds six foot towers out of hundreds of glass jars filled with the accoutrements of the diva. At first glance, these works appear as glowing pillars of sensuality and allure, but viewed closer the jars confess the fragility and the imperfection that exists within this "perfect" world. Herein lies the dichotomy of the "glamour girl" - self assured and in falliable from fary away, yet vulnerable and scar(r)ed upon closer inspection.
While on a residency in New Zealand in 2001-2002 living next to a wildlife center, I became I fascinated with the kiwi bird. This interest turned into an obsession for odd fowl during my subsequent travels in New Zealand and Australia.l There I saw a great deal of penguins in the wild and in captivity. In the wild I videotaped yellow eyed penguins at the Yellow Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve, a bizarre "camp" of ex-soldiers on maneuvers to find the penguin "enemy" near Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand. In less war-like circumstances I filmed little blue penguins near Dunedin and in Milford Sound, also on the south island of NZ. Blue penguins were also filmed in the wild in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia and in captivity at the Melbourne zoo.
I am currently researching penguins and producing penguin "creatures" in my studio: Soft, small, abstract penguin constructions using materials that evoke penguiness— blues, blacks, whites, yellows, fake furs and other more evocative fabrics like old clothes, plus cottons and wools and more. Beady eyes, feathers, strangely shaped appendages—a project strange and cuddly, and a bit sinister: just like penguins themselves.
Somehow the ex-soldiers on maneuvers stuck in my head. The penguins seem to me a metaphor for the various peoples trapped in this dance of war and animosity that our world is currently engaged in. We are all waddling around from here to there but going nowhere. Creating an installation about the penguin is my opportunity to make fun out of the futility while trying to stay sane in the madness, and to bring some levity to a heavy and clumsy situation. Like the penguins do.
Amy Berk creates skin-like constructions by binding together fake furs, translucent chiffons and silky satins and stretching them over wood frames. These structures serve to reveal and conceal what is seen on the outside epidermus and what is hidden underneath. Through veiling and unveiling the bumps, lumps, swellings, and holes of these hides. Berk pieces together the fragments of femininity.
Swirls, Paisley's, diamond shapes, polka dots, flowers in pink, fluorescent orange, royal purples, and lavenders, lime greens, soft greens, and viridians. These were the colors of the dresses my mom and aunt's would wear when I was growing up in Colombia, but also in Los Angeles. I remember these dresses flying by in a hurry on the way to the market, work, or a picnic at the park. La Avenida Sexta en Cali or Broadway in Los Angeles. The music of Herb Alpert in the background, Mongo SantaMaria, or Neal Diamond. I wanted to make paintings that used these colors and patterns. They are at once high fashion as in Emilio Pucci or quotidian fashion as in my mother's duster or mu mu.
Aside from looking at the past, I wanted to look at the present. The portraits use faces of friends and people I meet at parties. I see these interesting faces that are blends of so many different cultures and races and fashion styles. Everyday in the streets of cities across America (U.S) you see these lovely combo's Irish-Mexican, Just Guatemalan, Judeo-Colombian, Armenian-Canadian-French, African-Chinese-plus Cuban, and African-American-Korean, Brasilian-Mexican.
It is also the by-product of the market place, a sign advertising hairstyles at a hair salon, a Mercado, a café playing the music of Cuba followed by hip hop, followed by Tony Bennnet.
Not to say I want to or can represent all of these, as the possibilities are endless. It is more about capturing a feeling or explaining a vision for the work.
Castaño draws charcoal portraits of strong and seductive "hair" creatures, forms that classify femininity even unattached from the female body. These sexy creations are reminiscent of dard Hollywood glamour queens and animal fetishes. Castaño's swollen forms virtually throb with a playful and defiant sexuality. In a statement on big hair, Castaño sizes up the phenomena. "From beauty salons across America big hair looms over us, telling us that the big haired woman is dangerous, that she is your femme fatale ..."