Artist explores physicality, impermanence of life
From May 9-25, the Pajama Factory exhibited the work of artist and writer Rebecca Armstrong. The exhibition, entitled “Du/e Corps/e nella Groundless Ground,” featured sculpture, installation (including audio and video), performances by Armstrong and fellow artist and performer Samita Sinha and a talk by the artist on May 24.
To describe Armstrong as “artist and writer” seems almost limiting; the Danville native described herself as “a sculptor deep down” in an email interview, though she hardly limits herself to one medium.
“I use materials that make sense for what I’m doing, rather than get too caught up in a material for its own sake. That the maps of the dead (from ‘Du/e Corps/e nella Groundless Ground’) are made of gold is essential; that the bones are porcelain is as well. Materiality matters to me, so I pay very close attention to what things are made of. I think because of this I’m not wedded to any physical materials. Each physical element has to carry its own weight: ash, marble, skin, gold, sound. Each element has to be what it is for a reason,” she explained.
Armstrong’s poetry has been shortlisted for both the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books, and poems from her manuscript “Phrasebook for the Unrequited Country” have been featured in various literary journals. When asked how much her writing influences her visual work and visa versa, Armstrong said this: “I see the two as the same thing, though they take different forms. In my work I always strive to find the right vessel, the form that will both offer and teach me most about what I’m exploring or articulating. Often an idea will wend its way through all my practices: I might write a critical text about a group of ideas that I’m also making an installation about, and later discover that it also keeps reappearing in poems. The work is all an expression of the workings of the same mind, so though there are formal differences, they don’t feel different to me.”
The work that makes up “Du/e Corps/e nella Groundless Ground” is both carnal and fragile. Hanging sculptures made from the aforementioned porcelain bones, animal skin and fur, metal wire and silk conjure the same feelings you might have viewing some not-too-distant ancestor of homosapien in a natural science museum. The figure in front of you is harmless and docile now; but your imagination has no problem connecting this simple collection of materials to its undoubtedly violent former self (invented or not).
The exhibition explores physicality and impermanence-all the way from its title forward.
” ‘Du corps,’ translated, is ‘of the body.’ ‘Du corps’ becomes ‘due corpse’ through the addition of that small, most common letter and thus slips towards death,” the artist explains in her Artist Statement.
” ‘Du/e Corps/e nella Groundless Ground’ is a show with very deep textual roots, but it is also rooted in landscape, in light, in physical experience,” she explained, adding, “Much of my work deals with embodiment, which is something that happens fully outside texts, though texts through the ages attempt to codify or simplify or deify physical experience, especially as human bodies. (Most religious texts are at least a little concerned with this; many are challengingly obsessive on the point.)”
Currently between residencies – Armstrong spent last year in Belgium and will leave for Germany in the fall – the artist researched auditing at local schools and found herself spending a semester at Bloomsburg University’s print shop. There she met local educator and artist Chad Andrews who also runs the Print+ print shop at the Pajama Factory and it was through him that Armstrong was invited to be artist-in-residence for the 2013 season. She rented a studio and was invited to do a solo exhibition for May.
Armstrong explained that each of the pieces in “Du/e Corps/e nella Groundless Ground” have different timelines, but that some had to be sped up in preparation of the solo show. “I joke with my friends that I did three years of work in six months, and I think that’s pretty accurate,” she said.
When she isn’t artist-in-residence, Rebecca Armstrong splits her time between central Pennsylvania and New York City, where she’s lived since 2006. She has been awarded residencies by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Vermont Studio Center, and is looking forward to a residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. She has shown or performed work at Winkleman Gallery, Performa09 as a WritingLive Fellow, WeDaPeople’s Cabaretat Harlem Stage, and others, including the solo show “if you have a body when you get here” at The Ocean/The Waves Gallery in New York. You can find Armstrong and her work online at www.rarmstrongwork s.com. Artist and performer Samita Sinha can be found online at www.samitasinha.com and the Pajama Factory can be found at www.pajamafactory.net.