Overproduction and mass consumption are the two sides of the same coin, namely – capitalism. As consumer culture flourished far and wide, it precluded the possibility of scaling the deteriorating environmental health and increasing affirmative gender roles. Irrevocably, the human tribe today faces irreversible ecological problems and gender bias. New York-based multimedia artist Portia Munson’s longstanding practice at the intersection of sculptural installation, photography, painting, and sculpture raises pressing concerns about nature and feminism. The tantalizing accumulation of objects—junk from flea markets and thrift stores, trash from roadsides and creeks, junkyards and landfills—take the form of unflinchingly maximalist art installations. The American artist categorizes and assembles thousands of these found mass-produced items, organizing them into densely layered pieces that emphasize the object’s color and intended function.
In the recent solo exhibition Bound Angel by the installation artist at P P O W, New York, the works on display are a more informed exploration of environment and gender roles. Draw from the crucial project Pink project tablepresented at the groundbreaking exhibition bad girls by Marcia Tucker, the sculptural installation Bound Angel has female angels, figures of little girls, the Virgin Mary, classical and pornographic nudes, snow globes, candlesticks, night lights, lamps, soap dispensers, among others. These are placed on the large oval dining table covered with a tablecloth made from the wedding dresses. The sculpture’s form as a faceless bride invites the viewer to gaze at the objects, which are bound together as if they were “choking and entangling” one another.
The violence played out at the table differs from the orderly presentation of the objects on the market aimed at persuading buyers to invest in them. It’s as if both depictions of domestication play with the emotional minds of the consumer. The new series serving trayspopulated with the ceramic and glass figurines hanging from a string on the vintage silver plates, nestled in the exhibition was the large-scale installation, Bound Angel. Exploitative consumption, whether of products or aggressive claims of femininity, paves the way for destruction.
Another large-scale sculpture, Today will be great by the multidisciplinary artist, in the form of a female likeness, has the top half of a headless pink mannequin, arms folded to the waist – exuding an authoritarian demeanor – and wears pink elbow pads, backpack, a large bow with the words FEMINIST printed on it, and a pink one plastic pearl necklace. The pink objects such as dolls, beauty products, artificial hair, artificial flowers, dresses, bras, tiaras, evening gloves, jewelry and awards – to attract the young women – are displayed in the form of the large crinoline. At its base is a sign that reads Today will be great. In front of the shield, a figurine lies curled up on its side, her hands pressed against her pelvis, indicating the position of the fetus. On the one hand, the individual objects in Today will be great created to instill confidence and success in young women, on the other hand their dense accumulation in the immersive installation opens up a harsh reality of suffocation and violence. The victimization of women, when regularly expected to appear confident, forces them to fall victim to the vicious cycle of buying and consuming.
In an interview with STIR, Munson discusses the twin concerns – gender inequality and ecological imbalance – addressed in her art installations: “My work springs from my everyday experiences and focuses on the conflict between our material culture and the ‘natural’ world. Two sculptures Today will be great and Bound Angel are large accumulations of found used objects. I see this work as a commentary on femininity, women-centric marketing and female consumption, but also as a commentary on the environment. I believe that the ongoing pollution and destruction of our environment is the most pressing and dire issue of our time and, to me, is inseparable from feminism. I see a lack of respect for the environment, the place we live, as paralleling our civic discord and disregard for women and other undervalued groups.”
The still life meditations on individual objects can be found in Munson’s installations in the form of paintings and drawings from the functional women Series reinforce Munson’s fascination with objects. The wide range of subjects in these works – be it spread legs, nutcrackers, ashtrays, bare-breasted jugs, female torsos, perfume bottles, naked bottle openers or lustful salt and pepper shakers – once again open the window to the way women live. “Painting and drawing represent objects derived from my installations, focusing on a single object and resonating with its implied meanings. Working in different mediums at the same time directly influences all of my work and helps me refine and crystallize ideas,” notes Munson. The exhibition is a visual translation of Munson’s desire to display and document the living archive of women’s everyday lives.
“Our modern cultures produce so much stuff, we define ourselves and express our values through the commodities we surround ourselves with. I hope my work helps people see that there are embedded meanings in this stuff and helps us tune in to a deeper perspective,” concludes Munson.