Satiated in Santa Ana: “Pleasure Objects” @ Gallery 211
Local artists Alyssa Arney and Liz Flynn are very aware of the superficial nature of Southern California, where beauty is valued over health, and the constant presence of advertising is louder, brighter, and more attractive than honesty. Finding their way, separately, toward fiber arts, was an important journey for each artist, but finding their way toward each other, and creating an open dialogue with their community, other women, and internally, has fueled their artwork and their collaboration with meaning, purpose, and passion.
Their collaborative exhibit, “Pleasure Objects,” curated by Natalie Mik at Gallery 211, is a fascinating sensory adventure through objects and experiences that give humans pleasure. Ranging in content, the artists explore dark themes of gluttony, addiction, desire, and food fetishization by allowing visitors to view, engage, and interact with their art objects.
The medium for this artistic collaboration is predominantly yarn and fiber, with an occasional jewel or gem to bedazzle things just a bit more. The artists were inspired to explore these topics through yarn based on the historically imposed notion of knitting and crocheting to be gendered strictly as a feminine craft, and not fine art. “We wanted to bring this form of art production into a fine art gallery in order to emphasize that crochet and other forms of traditionally female work is, in fact, a skilled art form,” artist Liz Flynn tells us. “Furthermore, food preparation in the home is also a historically ‘female’ job.”
“It was important for me to surmount what I perceived as an intimidating practice,” Arney tells us. “I would watch my mother embroider, sew, crochet, knit, macrame, etc. as a child, with wonder, and always felt that it was magical and sort of an unattainable medium for me to work in.”
The exhibit is about two thirds food objects and food-based installations, and about one third drugs and alcohol-based objects—all of which are made of yarn, and crocheted and knitted by hand, by Arney and Flynn.
Gallery 211 is a very small gallery on the ground floor in one of the lofts on Sycamore near 3rd Street in Santa Ana. Though the space is very tight, the objects seemingly fit perfectly in the space, on the walls, and draw your attention to their detailed and crafted love. Partial proceeds of the art sales in this exhibit benefit the local non-profit organization Latino Health Access and their bilingual education program Healthy Weight, that assists kids, teens and their parents in the Santa Ana area about healthy eating, proper nutrition, how to shop healthy on a budget, and how to overcome obesity.
“Food is something that everyone has a relationship with, and for many of us it’s an ambivalent relationship,” Flynn explains. “We wanted to explore that ambivalence, and also the conflicting messages we receive from American society about food. There’s a huge disparity when you go into the average American grocery store and see the reality of what is available for people to buy and consume. This is just one topic of discussion that we wanted to address in the show. There are so many other facets of pleasurable food consumption that we present, such as psychological need, salt and sugar prevalence, and over-eating. This vast topic is important to both Alyssa and I, seeing as we experience our own personal struggles with food, body image, and diet.”
Crocheting and knitting every object, big and small, Arney and Flynn were meticulous with their double meanings, symbolic assortments, associations, and presentations.
Walking into the gallery, you’re going to notice the over-sized donut on the floor, first thing—Donut Hole. This donut serves as both an attractive symbol of all things sweet and gluttonous, but also serves as a lounge area that allows visitors to sit, and reflect on the physically addictive qualities that food can possess. It is metaphor and symbol for the constant disassociation with food and health, and the extreme excess that advertising pushes our society toward.
The rest of the gallery is filled with interactive objects, and small items arranged in symbolic ways, like the Health Hazards obstacle course full of ice cream cones, egg shells, spilled milk and banana peels, offering the double meaning of the negatives of some foods, and the negatively symbolic ways in which food enters our minds and vocabulary.
The Comfort Food Blanket is by far the most compelling work in this show. Although there are a number of perfectly crafted objects, hundreds of them actually, this comfort food blanket truly embodies both the symbol of a comforting blanket, and the strange comforting satisfaction that comes with eating the terrible foods that are understood to be “comfort foods,” such as cakes, ice cream, raviolis, ramen soup, macarons, cookies, waffles, pies, popcorn (seriously, there are so many items stitched into this three-dimensional blanket of gluttony). This blanket is not only accurate in its objects, its double meaning, but it carries with it, the added attraction of comfort—it looks soft, fuzzy, warm, and enveloping, it begs you to touch it, feel it, and want it, just like those foods.
There is a drug and alcohol table, an aphrodisiac section, a religiously-fueled Food Pyramid altar, and dozens of other small details that beckon your senses—and luckily, these artists invite you to engage with the work.
Although fiber arts, and craft-based arts are only recently getting the attention and admiration they deserve, more and more generations, like the two young artists in “Pleasure Objects” are seeing the strange and biased separation of craft and fine art as needless, and are taking great strides to show the rest of the art world that materials don’t make the art—the intention of the artist does.
With ties to yarn bombing, more traditional sculpture as well as fiber arts and painting, the artists in this exhibit have found a perfect balance between light and colorful visuals and heavy and dark content, demanding attention and reflection from every viewer and visitor.
This exhibit is only up until May 21, 2016. But the artists will be holding the second and last crochet workshop, in the gallery on May 21, from 1-3PM. The closing reception will also be on May 21, from 3-6PM.