Loni Diep, Lindsay Obermeyer & Renee Prisble Una @ Noyes Cultural Arts Center
November 18, 2009 – January 10, 2010
Curators Chie Curley and Barbara Goldsmith have organized an engaging show at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. Somatic features three artists who bind intensive hand-work with humor to address the imperfections, vulnerabilities and complexities of the human organism.
Loni Diep’s work examines our fixation with the body’s appearance. Her handmade paper kimonos are derived from junihitoe—oppressive, multi-layered robes worn by court women in Japan during the 10th century. In contrast to traditional junihitoe, adorned with floral or abstract patterns, Diep covers her kimonos with artificial finger nails, implants and trailing threads resembling fake eyelashes or varicose veins. She also paints the wrinkled surfaces to look like skin “flaws,” such as birthmarks or rosacea.
Named after common cosmetic procedures (e.g. “Waxing”), Diep’s kimonos conflate both ancient and contemporary notions of female beauty to illustrate how restrictive ideals endure through time. What moves the project beyond the didactic is the fun-house size of the kimonos and the artist’s decision to spread cosmetic detritus all over their surfaces to the point of absurdity. Slipping into one of these towering objects would surely elicit feelings of both helplessness and amusement.
Lindsay Obermeyer trains her attention below the skin and on the body’s interior. In Somatic, she exhibits works from her “Chirurgi” series, which include brightly embroidered snapshots of cellular machinery. Chirurgi is the Greek root for surgery. And Obermeyer is adept at investigating the intersection between surgery and textile crafts, both of which depend upon skillful hands. Several of her works depict leukocytes, white blood cells whose number can indicate disease. In a nearby vitrine, the artist displays virus models in three dimensions.
Both the “Chirurgi” works and virus models are made from beads, sequins and colorful threads that neutralize the subject matter’s sinister implications. Yet Obermeyer’s cheerfulness is not naïve. “Stained,” her most powerful work, features an inky body print on a hospital gown engulfed by metastasizing areas of red thread. It is the only work in which the artist’s sanguinity wavers.
Renee Prisble Una’s installation connects the body to the physical environment. The artist is fascinated by the transformative activity of fungi, organisms that decompose matter, recycle nutrients and (sometimes) infect humans. “Orange Jelly,” Prisble Una’s sprawling installation at Noyes, is made from scavenged sweaters. The fabric has been refashioned into globular clusters—fungal fruiting bodies—that spread from floor to ceiling in a magnification of the decay taking place behind the gallery’s walls. Sweater scraps that hang jauntily from several sections lend humor and variety to the work.
Like Obermeyer, Prisble Una uses vibrant colors and invitingly tactile materials to craft an appealing product in defiance of her topic’s pathogenic properties. “Orange Jelly” is as much at home in a gallery as an elementary school. To exit the gallery, one must pass through an opening flanked with fruiting bodies. It is a fitting conclusion to a tour that takes us from microbes to ecosystems, and through the body that links both extremes.
(Published in Chicago Artists' News, January 2010, Volume 37, Number 1.)