5 Questions with Polly Morgan

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art and nature. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor spoke with emerging and contemporary women artists featured in Organic Matters.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Polly Morgan
Nominating committee: Friends of NMWA, U.K. / Consulting curator: Lisa Le Feuvre, Henry Moore Institute

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do you think your work Systemic Inflammation relates to the broad theme of nature? What does the use of taxidermy in your works allow you to do that you could not do with any other media?

Polly Morgan; Photo by Amanda Eliasch

Polly Morgan; Photo by Amanda Eliasch

Taxidermy is an ultimately futile effort to harness nature, it allows us to manipulate and control the body of an animal in a way we would struggle, or in my case would not wish, to in life. Systemic Inflammation reimagines a Victorian invention for a flying machine; where a passenger would be transported by birds shackled to a carriage. Flight, or more specifically wings, is the ultimate symbol of freedom. Seeing these birds outside of, but harnessed to, the cage presents a paradox: who is free, passenger or bird?

Most objects can be art; a urinal, a bed, etc. A dead animal presents a problem in that it decays and can therefore only exist a finite amount of time before being altered irrevocably. Taxidermy has thus allowed me to incorporate animals in my work the way other sculptors use “found objects.”

2. Is this work representative of your oeuvre? How does it fit into your larger body of work?

With this work I was thinking of the mythological Phoenix rising from the ashes. I chose to use only orange birds as I wanted them to resemble flames, and to blacken and burn the cage to make it look as though it had been dragged from a fire. Like many of my works it reflects on the cycle of life and death, so in this way is representative of my oeuvre.

Polly Morgan, Systemic Inflammation, 2010; Taxidermy and steel, 51 1/8 x 44 1/2 x 44 1/2 in.; Private Collection, London; Photography by Tessa Angus

Polly Morgan, Systemic Inflammation, 2010; Taxidermy and steel, 51 1/8 x 44 1/2 x 44 1/2 in.; Private Collection, London; Photography by Tessa Angus

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

It might sound trite, but my brain. My practice is more and more varied and the most consistent tool I use is my imagination. Practically speaking I wouldn’t be able to get very far with just one tool, but a scalpel would be high on the list of essentials!

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and/or influence?

I never know what or whom I’ll be inspired by so it’s just important to try to keep spending time with interesting people, reading books, watching films and seeing exhibitions. Many of my favorite ideas have come to me when I’m walking my dogs as it’s an opportunity to rest my mind and to cut back on aural stimulation.

5. What’s the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

I recently saw the work of American artist Sarah Sze at the Victoria Miro gallery in London. I love her use of everyday, even scrap, objects and think of her as being one of those alchemical artists who can elevate the mundane and give it depth and beauty.

Art Fix Friday: July 25, 2015

A new project hopes to add sculptures of suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to the public art of Central Park. Out of the park’s 22 sculptures, none depict women. Of the 5,193 public outdoor sculptures in the U.S., only 394 are of women.

Chicagoist also discusses the need for more statues of women of historical significance in Chicago parks—rather than depictions of fictional female characters like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

Front-Page Femmes

Los Angeles Times comments on the glaring lack of major solo exhibitions in the city featuring black women artists.

Ti-Rock Moore, the artist behind the controversial Michael Brown sculpture, explains her motivations in this Huffington Post article.

A Brooklyn-based artist and textile designer, Lauren Garfinkel creates food art featuring political commentary.

A behind-the-scenes tour of rarely seen WWII artwork in Reality in Flames examines Australian female war artists. The Australian War Memorial’s assistant curator says, “I think the women artists do offer us a much more intimate, a much more personal view of the war.”

The Telegraph’s Claire Cohen explains why author Beatrix Potter should be the next woman on Britain’s £20 note.

Marvel’s publishing line relaunch includes books by 116 creators—but only 10 are women.

Celebrated dancer Jennie Somogyi will retire from the New York City Ballet this fall.

Reel Girl says Minions is the most sexist kids’ movie of the year. “The fact that the lack of females in children’s movies—from protagonists to crowd scenes, from heroes to villains—isn’t glaringly obvious to us and our children shows how sexist the world is.”

Female rapper MC Lyte is one of the women featured in Oprah.com’s “Who Am I” web series.

Shows We Want to See

Spanning her 35-year oeuvre, a major survey of Dame Elisabeth Frink’s public sculpture commissions will open in Nottingham.

The new Joan Mitchell retrospective reminds ARTnews of this throwback review of a 1965 exhibition of Mitchell’s work.

Carnegie Museum of Art’s She Who Tells a Story features women artists whose work comments on and subverts stereotypes about Middle Eastern identity.

Sotheby’s Cherchez la Femme: Women and Surrealism features women Surrealists, including Kay Sage, Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, and Remedios Varo. Sotheby’s Vice President Julian Dawes says, “Male Surrealists look at women as objects of desire. The female Surrealists sort of treat women as looking inward.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Victorian Decadence & Visual Decay

Polly Morgan’s Systemic Inflammation is a striking artwork in Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015. Featuring small yellow and orange birds rising from a tethered position atop a charred metal cage, this work exemplifies the way that the exhibition addresses modern society’s complex relationship with the environment.

Morgan spoke about her work during Member Day at the museum. A literature student, Morgan never intended to become an artist. Unsatisfied with decorative taxidermy options for her home, Morgan decided to make a work herself. She trained with a Scottish taxidermist and adopted the scientific process as an untapped contemporary art medium.

Left: Polly Morgan, Systemic Inflammation, 2010; Taxidermy and steel, 51 1/8 x 44 1/2 x 44 1/2 in.; Private Collection, London; Photography by Tessa Angus, Right: Systemic Inflammation (detail), Photograph by Laura Hoffman

Left: Polly Morgan, Systemic Inflammation, 2010; Taxidermy and steel, 51 1/8 x 44 1/2 x 44 1/2 in.; Private Collection, London; Photography by Tessa Angus, Right: Systemic Inflammation (detail), Photography by Laura Hoffman

Morgan is absorbed by the idea that humans, “as earth-bound creatures,” constantly attempt to push the limits of flight. Her use of birds and focus on wings highlight her fascination. Morgan also draws heavily from Victorian imagery—as seen in her works containing large ornate cages and glass terrariums. Systemic Inflammation pays homage to a drawing of a Victorian flying machine. affixed with a delicate bouquet of birds and evocative of a rising phoenix.

The use of dead animals in art immediately alludes to themes of death—but Morgan’s objective is not fully focused on death. She sees the triumph of life and discusses how terrifying the fight for life can be versus the peaceful state of death.

Departing from smaller works like Still Birth (Red), Morgan attempted to “command more space, become less ornamental and more monumental.” Her focus became more about juxtaposition and finding new ways to view nature. Her most recent work creates abstract forms from the bodies of snakes—resulting in a surprising and new type of sculpture.

Petah Coyne, Untitled (#781), 1994; Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York

Petah Coyne, Untitled (#781), 1994; Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York

Another work in NMWA’s collection connects visually to Morgan’s art. Petah Coyne’s Untitled #781 is an immense wax sculpture—both incredibly foreboding and lush with excess. It seems to grow and decay before the viewer. The sugary white and pastel pink of the work do not immediately recall Coyne’s darker works. Untitled #781 is part of a series about the experience of being a woman. It references the beautiful and fanciful expectations Coyne had as a young girl. The work is both feminine and sexual in nature, reminiscent of a cake or a wedding dress. It is a work fit for a modern Marie Antoinette.

Coyne’s art is influenced by literature, personal memories, Catholic theology, and baroque sculpture.

The macabre beauty of Coyne’s art brings a Victorian flair—similar to that found in Morgan’s art—to her incredibly modern oeuvre. Coyne changes her medium constantly, using taxidermy animals and dead fish in other works.

Petah Coyne and Polly Morgan are influenced by the art of Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse. Both artists bring forth otherworldly creations through extremely labor and time intensive processes. The results are stunning works of art which connect to nature and have a monumental presence.

Visit the museum to see Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 through September 13, 2015 and watch Polly Morgan’s gallery talk to learn more about the artist.

—Brittany Fiocca is the education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Questions with Andrea Lira

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art and nature. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor spoke with emerging and contemporary women artists featured in Organic Matters.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Andrea Lira
Nominating committee: Chile Committee / Consulting curator: Soledad García Saavedra, independent curator

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do you think your work RHYTHMS relates to that theme?

Andrea Lira; Photo by Phillip Angert

Andrea Lira; Photo by Phillip Angert

Most of my work refers to the natural world, since it is directly related to the environment I inhabit. I carefully collect raw materials like plants, sounds, and observations that I later bring to the studio. Sometimes they lead me into drawings, videos, or objects. In this case, I made the video RHYTHMS while I was doing a residence in Berlin, so the materials I used were all plants and organic debris collected from the streets.

I wanted to create metaphors about our similarities to the natural world and small gestures that showed those transformations and behaviors. Each vignette is an action or gesture from nature in a way. However, nature is more than a theme to me, it is a way of understanding life’s cycles and a language. Understanding the language of nature can help us create balance and harmony in our lives. The idea of recycling and repurposing is also part of my work, since I am constantly giving new shapes and meaning to the elements I collect, cutting them, tracing them, preserving them, etc.

2. How does RHYTHMS fit into your larger body of work?

I like to experiment with different materials and mediums, from drawing to animation, objects, and installations. However, the themes I investigate are mostly inspired by the language of nature, the morphology of plants, its behaviors, complex beauty and how we interact with our environment. The video RHYTHMS was done very spontaneously. I didn’t want to force any aesthetics, but experiment. It looks very different from my earlier videos, which were more elaborate and premeditated. Overall, the important thing in my work is the process that leads to the final work and the idea. Some pieces look more finished than others, but I like to have that freedom. It allows me to create more and not get stuck with the technical side.

Andrea Lira in collaboration with Marisa Benji, RHYTHMS, 2013; Video and animation; Courtesy of the artist

Andrea Lira in collaboration with Marisa Benji, RHYTHMS, 2013; Video and animation; Courtesy of the artist

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

First of all, observation, and then a passion for the act of drawing and understanding the world through images. The more I observe, the more I can connect concepts and forms. Then, drawing, because of its flexibility and expressiveness. Everybody can relate to this language, we have all drawn at some point in our lives, I drew before I started to talk. Drawing always surprises me. I can pull images from the unconscious, memories, trace gestures, visualized complex patterns, emotions, music, or drawings with different materials. The important thing is the action of making a personal mark that will reflect your personality, a rhythm, a unique gesture. It is sometimes a form of meditation and similar to writing, I can express my ideas faster with a pencil.

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and/or influence?

Most of my inspiration comes from nature and our relationship to it. But my first influence was my father, who as a surgeon taught me to observe trees and flowers, and to appreciate insects and the fragility of the human body. We could spend hours drawing and talking about a bone.

My world is also inspired by movement, the language of the body, dance, and sound. I was influenced by performance artists such as Bruce Nauman, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Trisha Brown, who used their bodies as tools and were constantly experimenting. Then I felt very connected with minimalist artist Agnes Martin, who can express a very powerful emotion through a simple line and color. Her work can translate the beauty and peace that I find in nature. But overall, my influences are constantly changing. I am now reading a very interesting book by Manuel Lima that talks about how we understand data and information graphically.

5. What’s the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

The last exhibition I saw was a retrospective of Yayoi Kusama, who experimented with multiple mediums and really took control of her career as an outsider and independent artist in New York during the ’70s. Her body of work is fascinating, from her early giant Minimalist paintings to her performances and colorful installations. She had a very rich personal world and was not afraid of exhibiting her fears, political views, obsessions about the body, sex, and even fashion statements. She used the media and the press as another outlet to convey her messages. Finally, she moved back to Japan to reinvent herself as an artist in a completely changed country, where she has voluntarily lived in a mental institution. Her art was not only her profession, but maybe a type of therapy to understand and cope with her own persona. In one way or another, we want to make art so we can see beyond our physical lives and truly try to understand the mind and our deepest emotions.

Art Fix Friday: July 17, 2015

Women photographers captured media attention this week. “Women have distinguished themselves covering stories that not too long ago were dominated by men,” wrote The New York Times photographer Ruth Fremson. In an article earlier this month, Fremson explored the field of photojournalism from her female colleagues’ perspectives.

Photographer Annie Ling captures portraits of six single mothers in Iceland.

Ling says, “These women aren’t getting judgment from the outside. So, because they’re accepted, they’re much more at ease in their situations.” New Yorker writer Janet Elise Johnson says Ling’s portraits also reveal the tensions faced by the sitters. “Single mothering may be less fraught in Iceland, but the women [Ling] photographed are not what we Americans would see as comfortably well off.”

Soldiers and Suffragettes: The Photography of Christina Broom highlights history through the lens of the United Kingdom’s first female photojournalist.

Unquiet Images by contemporary French artist Valérie Belin are on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Two portraits of AIDS researcher Dr. Mathilde Kim will go on display in the National Portrait Gallery—one by Annie Leibovitz and one by Joyce Tenneson.

Leibovitz will also receive the inaugural SFMOMA Contemporary Vision Award.

Juxtapoz explores photographs by NMWA artist Francesca Woodman.

Dana Stirling published a book featuring rejection letters she has received in her efforts to succeed as a photographer.

Front-Page Femmes

Former president of MoMA Agnes Gund wants to increase the visibility of women artists in museums. “Women artists, no matter how well recognized they are, are seldom given solo exhibitions or featured in significant group shows.”

German painter George Baselitz is well-known for his inflammatory remarks that “Women don’t paint very well” and “The market doesn’t lie.” Artnet lists four women artists whose work has topped Baselitz’s at auction.

In honor of Bastille Day, Artnet compiled a list of their favorite revolutionary artists—including Tania Bruguera, Yoko Ono, Guerrilla Girls, Shirin Neshat, Kara Walker, and Jenny Holzer.

Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera is the first artist-in-residence for New York City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s Research Center received a donation of historic correspondence between O’Keeffe and her close friend Frances O’Brien.

Lena Dunham creates a weekly newsletter for young women.

SPARK Movement teams up with Google Maps to create Women on the Map—a new app to help bring visibility to women’s achievements.

Women artists share their stories about sexism in the music industry.

The new Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences added three more women. The 51-person board now has 17 women.

Female film directors put together a list of must-see movies made by women

Over the past three seasons, one-fifth of plays at theaters nationwide were written by women.

Shows We Want to See

An exhibition at the London location of Phillips auctioneers includes 40 works by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos.

Fiber artist Lynn Bennett-Carpenter’s new works are on view at 9338 Campau. Hyperallergic reports that “objects that initially appear rigid, are in fact elastic, forcing us to reconcile our perceptions with reality.”

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art has a survey of Dutch artist and filmmaker Fiona Tan. Tan reimagines “Jonah the Giant Whale” as a 71-foot long cabinet of curiosities.

Conceptual artist Agnes Denes re-created her installation Wheatfield in the center of Milan.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Painting with Confidence: Early Female Self-Portraiture

Self-portraits convey more than just appearances—they affirm an artist’s identity. In the 16th and 17th centuries, women artists made portraits of themselves in their studios. Self-portraiture helped legitimize women as artists in a male-dominated profession.

Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Judith Leyster presented themselves with confidence—they asserted and promoted themselves in eras when society rarely deemed that appropriate for women.

Leyster’s The Concert is currently on view at NMWA, and paintings by Anguissola and Gentileschi recently appeared in Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea. By representing themselves in the traditionally male role of the confident artist, these women created places for themselves within the art world, regardless of their sex.

In Anguissola’s Self Portrait at the Easel, the artist identifies herself with the Virgin Mary on her canvas. Both are women of virtue with a reserved demeanor and simple dress. However, Anguissola’s strong gaze meets that of the viewer. She carries herself proudly as she displays her painting-within-a-painting.

Anguissola adheres to society’s expectations of depicting women modestly, yet she boldly shows that she is also an artist with talents for both portraiture and religious scenes.

Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting exemplifies her assured and dynamic painting style, even when applied to self-portraiture. In the Baroque period, allegorical figures (or people embodying abstract concepts) were generally represented as female figures. Capitalizing on this trend, Gentileschi’s painting goes a step further. She depicts herself as a symbolic representation of “painting.” Using her own likeness instead of an idealized figure, Gentileschi tests the conventions of feminine humility. In her painting, Gentileschi faces away from the viewer, absorbed in her work. Because her working canvas is out of view, nothing distracts the viewer from Gentileschi’s image.

Leyster, a successful Dutch artist, exudes self-assurance in her Self-Portrait. This is one of the few 17th-century depictions of a woman smiling. Typically, smiling or laughing in the art of Leyster’s contemporaries indicated mental instability or drunkenness. Leyster turns that stereotype on its head, along with the stereotype of the talented artist as a man. She shares the delight of the fiddler on her canvas while grinning at those who doubted her artistic ability.

These three works illustrate the ways that Western self-portraits incrementally became more confident and less demure. Pioneering women of the 16th and 17th centuries proudly painted themselves as artists, paving the way for a long tradition of female self-portraiture—from Elizabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun in the 18th century to Alice Bailly in the 20th century.

—Christy Slobogin is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Questions with Ysabel LeMay

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art and nature. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor spoke with emerging and contemporary women artists featured in Organic Matters.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Ysabel LeMay
Nominating committee: Texas State Committee / Curator: Virginia Treanor, National Museum of Women in the Arts

Ysabel LeMay; Photograph by Joel Salcido

Ysabel LeMay; Photograph by Joel Salcido

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do you think your work Reflection relates to the theme of nature?

Nature is omnipresent in my work. I strive not only to honor its beauty, grace, and power, but to go further, to explore and learn from nature’s consciousness, its infinite procession of interrelationships. Reflection speaks of the mirror effect that a relationship with another can offer, especially when we are aware and specifically choose certain challenging relationships as opportunities to grow and to awaken to our own beauty and individuality.

2. Is this work representative of your oeuvre? How does it fit into your larger body of work?

From a technical perspective, Reflection shares the hypercollage technique I employ throughout my body of work—an enhanced approach to digital collage, in which fragments of original nature photography are woven into tableaus with the cohesion and persuasiveness of classical painting. Thematically, this specific work continues an ongoing story established with Les Naturalistes, a piece I created a few years back. It represents two people who profoundly love each other, but decide to depart from their shared relationship, to grow individually, respecting their own natural rhythms.

5_LeMay_TX_REFLECTIONweb

Ysabel LeMay, Reflection, 2014; Color print diptych, 61 x 72 in. overall; Courtesy of the artist

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

Observation. I like to say, if you just take the time to relax and observe, you can have access to the gates of creativity.

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and/or influence?

I am influenced by my personal awakening and the things that trigger the opening of my heart. Nature, art, people . . . .

5. What’s the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

I recently visited Armory Week in New York City, and felt that the collective energy emanating from the artists’ works had changed since the last few years. Less shocking, less in-your-face, but more introspective and aesthetically graceful. There is a need, perhaps, to explore again the brighter side of life—a place I have been expressing visually for many years now.

Art Fix Friday: July 10, 2015

Films featuring female protagonists have made strides at the box office. The New York Times film critics ask, “Has feminism conquered Hollywood? Has Hollywood co-opted feminism?”

Movies featuring women are becoming popular and sexist films are called out. Critic A.O. Scott wonders if this represents a “shift in consciousness, or at least a moment of awareness.” Critic Manohla Dargis agrees there is a “rising activism or maybe newfound gutsiness in the industry.” Vulture discusses four forms of discrimination women filmmakers often face.

Front-Page Femmes

The women-only Murray Edwards College has a new 450-work collection of art by women—making it the second largest collection of art by women in the world.

The Independent explores how a new generation of women artists tackle painting. “It has never been that brilliant female painters didn’t exist, it’s just that they were blocked or hidden from public view.”

In celebration of Frida Kahlo’s (1907–1954) birthday on Monday, The Detroit Institute of Art offered discounted tickets to the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibition. The Huffington Post gives advice on how to become like the Mexican painter. Latin Times shares the artist’s most memorable quotes, and CNN explores pictures of Kahlo’s private life.

“Stop Telling Women to Smile” artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh teamed up with King Texas to design t-shirts in remembrance of women lost to violence.

The Huffington Post has a list of ten more 19th-century American woman artists people should know. The list includes NMWA artists Lilly Martin Spencer, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, and Elizabeth Jane Gardner.

The first chapter of Harper Lee’s long-awaited but controversial Go Set A Watchman is available online.

Two new books about Agnes Martin explore the enigmatic artist’s life and work.

Beyoncé-inspired skyscraper will be built in Melbourne.

critique of the Amy Winehouse biopic says the film supports “clichés that plague women in art: that women can’t write their own music, or that they’re only famous because powerful male figures lifted them into the spotlight.”

NPR Music critic Ann Powers discusses the rise of the female pop stars.

The Guardian calls out a former Disney CEO for saying, “The hardest artist to find is a beautiful, funny woman.” The Washington Post goes on to ask “How widespread is this prejudice against the pretty?”

Feminist performers in “Tall Women in Clogs” comment on how height can shape a woman’s identity.

Following Misty Copeland’s history-making appointment as the American Ballet Theater’s first African American principal dancer, The Huffington Post compiled a list of 26 talented African American choreographers and dancers.

Shows We Want to See

The National Portrait Gallery highlights rarely-seen portraits by Elaine de Kooning.

Tate Modern holds a retrospective of painter Sonia Delaunay.

Jenny Holzer: Softer Targets opens this Sunday at Hauser & Wirth Somerset.

The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston features over 150 polymorphic sculptures by Arlene Shechet.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Elisabetta Gut

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Elisabetta Gut, whose work is currently on view in NMWA’s galleries.

Elisabetta Gut (b.1934)

1. Who Knew?

Gut began her artistic career as a painter, but in the 1960s, she started to search for a new form of expression. Inspired by avant-garde artists’ use of experimental materials, she created her first book-object in 1964.

2015-06-30-13_20_00-nmwa.org_sites_default_files_shared_sfy_current_pack

Elisabetta Gut’s works (left to right): Book in a Cage, 1981; Gift of the artist; Libro-Seme (Seed-Book), 1983; Gift of the artist; Photographs by Lee Stalsworth

2. Lost & Found

Whether trapping a French-Italian dictionary in a cage or “growing” music from a seed, Gut often incorporates found objects in her work. Each object’s unique history is incorporated into a new context.

3. What’s in a Name?

Though Gut’s artist books encourage close looking rather than traditional reading, words still play a role. Her titles provide insight into the inspiration, materials, or thoughts behind a work.

Elisabetta Gut, The Firebird (From Stravinksy), 1985; Gift of H.G. Spencer in honor of Lorraine Grace - See more at: http://nmwa.org/works/firebird-stravinsky#sthash.GnLWHaCp.dpuf

Elisabetta Gut, The Firebird (From Stravinksy), 1985; Gift of H.G. Spencer in honor of Lorraine Grace

4. Art Begets Art

Gut’s work frequently draws inspiration from her favorite works of art, music, or poetry. The Firebird, for example, visually interprets music from Igor Stravinsky’s famous ballet.

5. Book as Art

Artists’ books blur the lines between visual art and literary art. Works by Elisabetta Gut are currently on view in both the exhibition Super Natural and the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center. See if you can find both works during your next visit!

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Questions with Mimi Kato

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art and nature. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor spoke with emerging and contemporary women artists featured in Organic Matters.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Mimi Kato
Nominating committee: Ohio Advisory Group / Consulting curators: Reto Thüring, Cleveland Museum of Art; Rose Bouthillier, MOCA Cleveland

1. Organic Matters includes art that refers or responds to the natural world. How do you think your work Landscape Retreat: In the Woods relates to the theme of nature?

Mimi Kato; Photo by Robert Muller, Courtesy of Cleveland Institute of Art

Mimi Kato; Photo by Robert Muller, Courtesy of Cleveland Institute of Art

My interest in nature and landscape stems from my longing for the familiar landscape of my home, Japan. Drawing landscape from my memories, photographs, and online street views, I started to think about our daily landscape and how our lives, activities, and actions constantly affect its form.

Exploring urban landscapes, I noticed many green spaces hidden under and between urban structures, such as under highway bridges and empty abandoned lots. These green spaces do not come to mind when we talk about nature even though they function in an ecosystem, supporting the lives of plants and animals. The series “Landscape Retreat” focuses on one such landscape by analyzing human perception and categorization of nature.

2. Is this work representative of your oeuvre? How does it fit into your larger body of work?

Yes. Inspired by theater, especially Japanese traditional mask theater and contemporary Butoh, I started to perform in my work. Every figure presented in my work is me, conveying the narratives of the compositions through poses and acts. My interest, ideas, and narratives have shifted over time; however the performance aspect remains and is also present in the series “Landscape Retreat.” The process of my work, performing, sewing costumes, making props, and directing narratives, resembles the process of the theater and I often refer to my work as one-person theater.

Mimi Kato, Landscape Retreat: In the Woods (detail), 2012; Archival pigment print diptych, each print 28 x 65 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Mimi Kato, Landscape Retreat: In the Woods (detail), 2012; Archival pigment print diptych, each print 28 x 65 in.; Courtesy of the artist

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

The most essential tool for me is curiosity. Asking many “why” questions to even the most mundane things that surround our lives could reveal new findings.

Recently, I collaborated on a project with the invasive plants management crew from the Cleveland Metroparks. This project started with a very simple question about familiar plants from Japan in the American landscape: “Why are they here?” Following this curiosity and finding the answers, the project pushed me out of my routine studio practice, leading to a collaboration and site-specific installation. A simple question opened up a new possibility and challenges in my art practice.

I believe curiosity is an essential tool in any field and can enrich and strengthen one’s thinking process and way finding.

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and/or influence?

Things that surround me, especially landscapes at this moment. It is fascinating to see how we humans have been marking our existence in the landscape.

5. What’s the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

Forty-Part Motet by Janet Cardiff at Cleveland Museum of Art, The Paradise Institute also by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, and The Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson at Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.