Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who's In the Kitchen?

["Model Kitchen" (2009), mixed media, environmental installation]

When Marybeth Ward learned that women ages 45 to 65 would be the largest demographic group in the United States by 2010—coupled with knowledge of the concurrent and worldwide pandemic violence against women—the idea for “Model Kitchen” germinated. These facts combined into this large, mixed-media installation exploring the current condition of women. In this, her third solo exhibition at the La MaMa Gallery, Ward captures a territory of transformation and pays homage to 21st century women who fight violence in order to survive and gain control of their lives.

Not since the series of impromptu exchanges between then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev in the 1959 “Kitchen Debate” has a model kitchen so enumerated so rich a social and political terrain. Because the kitchen is the center of every home and represents woman’s domain throughout history, Ward decided upon one as the unifying concept for this installation. Huddled in the center of her kitchen are a table, stove, old refrigerator, and vintage television. Walls surrounding this “ensemble” are large transparent walls made synthetic polymer hanging from the ceiling and floating as if floating in time. Embedded in these panels are graffiti-like drawings, blueprints, United Nations documents, and 240 female images culled from international newspapers. Playing on the television screen is a video loop containing live footage of women being “violated” in various ways intercut with images of empowered women fighting for their rights.

This use of video—in its sensitivity to time—allows Ward to manipulate time and space as a means of exploring various perceptions and perspectives. In “Model Kitchen,” the artist absorbs memories and histories of individual women and women as collective entities—bringing forth images in which the full texture of the international women’s struggle can be magnified. How many realize that, in 2008, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a campaign (continuing through 2015) aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls in all parts of the world?

As with Ward’s previous and successive large environmental installations, “Model Kitchen” is a contemplation of various processes of transformation, impermanence, and power. In “Embryo” (2001), Ward used a 1.4-ton monolith ice sculpture with a projection screen frozen in it to display video images of a two-year-old boy on a “hero’s journey.” Its melting ice dramatized the impermanence of life. “Winter Song” (2002) was a mandala of dried leaves on the floor upon which images were projected of owls she had photographed, superimposed with ancient Buddhist and Native American symbols. Meanwhile, “Revelation” (2003) was a double video projected upon salt in a lead trowel containing images of the Pacific Ocean and Mojave Desert and pictographs of the indigenous peoples of Southern California—her juxtaposition of ocean and salt expressing an environmental statement. With its message of the absurdity of controlling nature, “Tornado in a Box” (2004) consisted of an eight-foot cube covered in blackboard enabling viewers to write on it after seeing an image of a tornado through a peephole.

While La MaMa Galleria is Marybeth Ward’s primary creative home, this New York based mixed media artist and videographer has also shown her work at the New School, Ukrainian Center (New York), La MaMa Umbria, Silver Lake Festival, and various galleries in the Netherlands.

Reopening after a two-year renovation, the La MaMa Gallery no longer stands alone. This not-for-profit gallery—opened in the late 1980s—is now surrounded by one of the largest redevelopment programs in New York City’s history. This gallery’s mission extends from that of the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club: to exhibit as many artists and art forms as possible. Artistic experimentation is nurtured in this gallery where a diversity of artists exhibit at various career stages. “Model Kitchen,” in its depiction of the international struggle of women for autonomy—in the midst of widespread economic, physical, psychological, and spiritual abuse—may provide a venue for viewers to reflect upon these serious challenges and an apropos inauguration of this space.

Model Kitchen: A Mixed Media Installation
By Marybeth Ward @ La MaMa Galleria
Through October 31, 2009
6 East 1st Street, NYC 10003

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