As is frequently the case in today’s world, I was first introduced to Brenda Goodman’s work via the web and when I discovered that she would soon be showing in Philadelphia, I marked my iCal with the date. I set out on my first First-Friday, struggled up the packed stairwell, and pushed through a substantial crowd to Tiger Strikes Asteroid, an artist run space dedicated to presenting emerging and mid-career artists with locations in New York, Los Angeles and yes – lowly Philadelphia.
The show titled Trembling Halves features Brenda Goodman and Kate Gilmore, two artists who each contend with the physical aspects of women’s bodies in their art. I must admit that it wasn’t until I returned home and did a little research that I realized how deeply interrelated these two artists’ works are.
Here is what I saw:
Digital images of Goodman’s work can’t adequately convey her chunky application. Her two abstracted self-portraits dominate the small gallery. Each beady eye protrudes off the surface into space, sculpted as much as painted and the effect is penetrating. Since she is her own subject, one questions the figure’s glare: is this an unforgiving self-examination? Or is it a challenge to the viewer?
She seems to say,
“This is who I am.
Don’t look away.
Why can’t you see?
See me, as I see myself
As you have caused me to see.”
In “Self-Portrait-59,” Goodman’s eye is violently blackened. Is it self-inflicted? Is it a punishment of sorts for failure to live up to an accepted goal or something we have perpetuated through viewing? Or is it instead an imagined wound –a “psychic blemish” –as Gabby Collins-Fernandez calls it in the exhibit’s catalogue essay?
Goodman presents five pieces in this show, all examples of her former work. Recently she has progressed into the realm of the subconscious, foregoing her own likeness in favor of surrealist imagery conjured from automatic drawing. Whether it’s self-portraits or imagined amorphous forms, Goodman’s work devastates.
Kate Gilmore’s video “Buster” (2011) was the only other piece on view. First, visualize six tiers of concrete high school stadium seating lined with rows of ceramic jugs. Gilmore’s figure is only shown from the waist down in a static shot as she moves methodically down each step, stomping, smashing, and kicking each jug until it breaks spewing either purple or white paint. I recall thinking “Is she going to cut herself?” and then feeling relief when she didn’t. For some inexplicable reason my anxiety didn’t diminish upon second viewing.
When considering Gilmore’s video in relationship to her full body of work, it becomes clear that she challenges herself physically, pitting the body against actual material barriers. One work that stands out as connected to “Buster” is “Between a Hard Place” from 2008, where the artist bashes through multiple layers of drywall with only her hands and feet. While she is a performance artist and not a painter, she nonetheless marks and paints with raw force not unlike Goodman.
Trembling Halves is a show that calls attention to the close relationship’s that can emerge from divergent practices. It calls attention to the limits placed on women’s bodies both by themselves and society at large. I highly recommend taking the time to go see it. The show is on view at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Philadelphia until February, 28th.
by Liz Ayerle
More: Check out this fabulous artist talk from Brenda Goodman & these other links,
Video’s of Gilmore’s work on her website, www.kategilmore.com