5 Questions with Carolina Sardi

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Carolina Sardi
Nominating committee: Florida State Committee / Consulting curator: Diana Nawi, Pérez Art Museum Miami

Carolina Sardi, Photo: Mariano Costa Peuser

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

Metal allows you to do almost anything if you know how to work with it. I love that it is an industrial material that I can transform into objects, sculptures, and installations that seem organic and that can be viewed as a different material. That creates a sense of mystery that is important in art.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

The pieces chosen for Heavy Metal are from the series of my work called “Landscapes.” In this series I explore two-dimensional space with sculptural elements that I use in my other works. I create different layers by incorporating the painted background and the directional lines that I use to create my compositions on the wall. My works tell a story that can be interpreted in different ways by the viewer.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

My most essential tools are my brain and my heart. Materials and tools are secondary if you don’t have your heart and your brain to process and to express yourself.

Carolina Sardi_ Grandfather_ Cricket and I_ Plated Steel over Painted Wall_ 91_ x 156_ x 2_ 2016_ Photo by Mariano Costa Peuser

Carolina Sardi, Grandfather, Cricket and I, 2016; Plated steel over painted wall, 91 x 156 x 2 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Pan American Art Projects Miami; Photo by Mariano Costa Peuser

Carolina Sardi_ Black Holes_ Plated Steel over Painted Wall_96_ x 96_ x 2_ 2012_ Photo by Mariano Costa Peuser

Carolina Sardi, Black Holes, 2012; Plated steel over painted wall, 96 x 96 x 2 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Pan American Art Projects Miami; Photo by Mariano Costa Peuser

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

I draw influence from everyday life, my personal experiences, and my search for balance between opposites. I look for answers about why we are here, what are we made of, how the universe works, and how we interact with each other.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

William Kentridge’s More Sweetly Play the Dance impacted me because of his use of repetition. Through layering drawing, movement, and music, Kentridge conveys that migration, illness, and death are inevitable, but humans continue to hope despite it all.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

5 Questions with Kerianne Quick

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Kerianne Quick
Nominating committee: Southern California Committee / Consulting curator: Bobbye Tigerman, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Kerianne Quick; Photo: Angie Ollman

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

Metal is an amazing shapeshifter that can be endlessly re-formed, from solid to liquid and back to solid. I love the idea that the metal I work with has an unseen history. It was once part of the regalia of ancient royalty, or a simple circle worn for decades around your grandmother’s finger. Because we carry it, use it to mark occasions, and re-form it to suit the needs of its user, metal continually bares witness to individual lives and the history of humanity.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

I am currently exploring contemporary forms of portable wealth. For millennia, jewelry has been an important means of transporting wealth. Material value plays an important role, but it is not the only value jewelry holds. Jewelry can reconnect the wearer to spaces that are no longer accessible. My current project A Portrait of People in Motion looks at the role of objects in movement and migration, both voluntary and forced. The works in Heavy Metal explore my own experience with spatial displacement—both real and imagined.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

My hands are my most essential tools. Making by hand is a way of thinking and learning that is not directly associated with intellect. I rely on proprioceptive interactions between my body and the material, leading me to act intuitively as I work.

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Kerianne Quick, What Time and Distance Cannot Shrink, 2017; Copper, fine silver, and sterling silver, dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist

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Kerianne Quick, What Time and Distance Cannot Shrink (detail), 2017; Copper, fine silver, and sterling silver, dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist

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Kerianne Quick, The Utility of Sentimental Emotions, and Perceived Value, 2017; Sterling silver, copper, and steel, 24 x 5 x 1/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

I am obsessed with material and the information it can carry. I am inspired by the stories that objects can relate, authenticate, and enhance. I have made several bodies of work in this material-specific way of working. I explored communal sheep farming practices in the Orkney Isles, sugar farming in Hawaii, native copper mining in Ontonagon County, and derelict brickyards in New York’s Hudson Valley.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

I loved Dahn Vo: Take My Breath Away at the Guggenheim. He masterfully re-contextualizes objects in the physical space of the museum, allowing their historical significance to become an amalgam of new meaning and a new narrative. As a metalsmith, I think Vo’s We the People is a must see!

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

Artist Spotlight: Charlotte Charbonnel

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Charlotte Charbonnel with Train End (2016) in Heavy Metal; Photo: Sarah Baker

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Charlotte Charbonnel
Nominating committee: Les Amis du NMWA (France) / Consulting curator: Alicia Knock, Centre Pompidou

Works by French artist Charlotte Charbonnel often highlight invisible forces, like sound and magnetic waves. Charbonnel’s work focuses on “different visual qualities, the physical instability, and the acoustic properties of elements.”

Two of Charbonnel’s works in Heavy Metal, Petit colosse n°7 (2016) and Resonarium (2011), contain iron filings suspended in space by magnetism. Resonarium, in particular, demonstrates the strange way in which magnets can help metal defy gravity. The work’s central core rotates slowly on a motor while iron filings shift subtly, pulled by an invisible magnetic attraction. Viewers may find the work to have a magical, hypnotic quality.

Charbonnel is attracted to metal for its transformative qualities. “Metal, through its different states (powder, solid, and liquid) allows a transformation that I try to reveal in my work,” says the artist. “Because metal can transform from one state to another, it seems almost alive, organic.”

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Charlotte Charbonnel, Petit colosse n°7, 2016; Iron filings and resin, 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.; Courtesy of Backslash; Photo by Salim Santa Lucia

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Charlotte Charbonnel, Resonarium, 2011; Aluminum, iron powder, magnets and motor, 59 1/8 x 35 1/2 x 15 3/4 in.; Courtesy of Backslash; Photo by François Deladerrière

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Charlotte Charbonnel, Resonarium (detail), 2011; Aluminum, iron powder, magnets and motor, 59 1/8 x 35 1/2 x 15 3/4 in.; Courtesy of Backslash; Photo by François Deladerrière

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Charlotte Charbonnel, Train End, 2016; Measuring tool and stainless rods, 11 7/8 x 13 3/8 in.; Courtesy of Backslash; Photo courtesy of the artist; © Charlotte Charbonnel

Charbonnel sees iron filings as “independent, mutable pieces until they come into contact with magnets.” She is interested in the way that the “resulting shape can evoke a mineral, an animal, or a fossil.” Charbonnel’s intriguing sculptures and installations blend science and art and highlight the enigmatic beauty of natural forces.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

—Nana Gongadze is the 2018 summer publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Questions with Serena Porrati

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Serena Porrati
Nominating committee: Gli Amici del NMWA (Italy) / Consulting curator: Iolanda Ratti, Museo del Novecento

Serena Porrati with Thin Film (2017); Photo: Sarah Baker

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

During my masters in Art and Science at Central Saint Martins I spent most of my time in the metal workshop, where I quickly got involved in welding. I was attracted by the physicality of the work. Metal requires your mind but also your muscles.

I’m excited by the speed of welding and by the possibility of building heavy structures in only a few hours. I also appreciate metal’s intrinsic properties. I realized that I wasn’t interested in using metal to represent something. I was using it to study and question its own materiality, establishing a discourse with it.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

The works presented here are not fixed or defined, rather they evoke their own history or a discourse. They constantly question their own origin and destiny.

I don’t see the metals as a passive stuff. As theorist Jane Bennett states, this habit of parsing the world into dull matter (it, things) and vibrant life (us, beings) is a “partition of the sensible.” The quarantines of matter and life encourage us to ignore the vitality of matter and the lively powers of material formations.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

I use heat as a brush, as a process of transformation, and a tool to operate. By mimicking geological and industrial processes, engaging with ideas of control and chance, working with metal and heat, I mark a trajectory between the organic and the inorganic, the animate and inanimate, life and non-life, the raw material and the artifact. It’s an attempt to evade binary categories of thought.

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Serena Porrati, Thin Film, 2017; Copper, 15 3/4 x 12 in.; Courtesy of Space4235 Genoa

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Serena Porrati, Damascus Sunset, 2017; Steel, 1 1/4 x 24 7/8 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Serena Porrati, Collapse, 2014; Cast iron, 7 7/8 x 9 7/8 x 3 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

Science, nature, and the forest outside my house, but also the heavy cargo airplanes that fly over my house inspire me. I enjoy reading and listening to contemporary philosophers, including Donna Haraway, Elisabeth Povinelli, John Zerzan, Hannah Tzing, and Jane Bennett—and also their predecessors, Tommaso Bruno, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Darwin, Adorno, and Deleuze.

5.What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

Carta Canta was a collective show held at Il Foglio, a printing workshop in Milan where etchings from great masters of art history were exhibited alongside works by contemporary artists.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

5 Questions with Beverly Penn

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018

Artist: Beverly Penn
Nominating committee: Texas State Committee / Consulting curator: Virginia Treanor, National Museum of Women in the Arts

Beverly Penn; Photo: Christopher Zaleski

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

Metal adds permanence and intractability to an otherwise susceptible and transitory entity. In essence and in form the bronze replaces each unique plant, like a non-natural double. I cast weeds into bronze to create an enduring replica that pays homage to the original—like a memorial. The notion of a memorial is significant in these times of irreversible climate change and extinction, yet a memorial also links us to desire, so it is also hopeful.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

My larger body of work includes three related explorations. The “Timeline” series documents a single plant through an annual growth cycle, from bud to seed, by fixing specimens in a vertical sequence to slotted glass rods. The “Weed” series explores a group of plants with which humans have had to contend for places over millennia. The “Nativesseries reveals a sense of unity with nature.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

My psyche (soul, brain, eyes, hands) and my torch. One imagines and the other makes.

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Beverly Penn, Eight Months Time: Snowcap Hawthorne, 2017; Bronze, glass, brass, and steel, 40 x 10 x 6 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Lisa Sette Gallery, and William Campbell Contemporary Art; Photo by Christopher Zaleski

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Beverly Penn, Maelstrom, 2011; Bronze, 108 x 108 x 6 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Lisa Sette Gallery, and William Campbell Contemporary Art; Photo by Christopher Zaleski

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Beverly Penn, Fata Morgana, 2014; Bronze, 90 x 8 x 27 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Lisa Sette Gallery, and William Campbell Contemporary Art; Photo by Christopher Zaleski

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

I am inspired and perplexed by the kingdom of plants with which we share this planet—especially the natives, invasives, and other stoic upstarts that persist without our stewardship. I am also inspired by Moorish architecture, Islamic art, and Victorian design. I am influenced by historians E. H. Gombrich, Oleg Grabar, and Christian Norberg-Schultz; the writing of Michael Pollen, Lucy Lippard, Ann Patchett, and Zadie Smith; the gardens and fantasies of Martha Schwartz and Antoni Gaudi; the music of Keith Jarrett, Aretha Franklin, and Nick Drake; as well as many artists.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

I was moved by Do Ho Suh’s recent solo exhibition, which featured drawings, videos, and sculptural fabric “Specimen” series. Made from glowing transparent polyester, these “specimens” were replicas of domestic appliances and fixtures. The installation was a dreamlike replica of the artist’s New York apartment and studio made from luminous, transparent fabric. Wandering through the ephemeral likeness of this ghostly maze of corridors and rooms was a physical and psychological exchange of one reality for another.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

Artist Spotlight: Leila Khoury

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Leila Khoury
Nominating committee: Ohio Advisory Group / Consulting curators: Reto Thüring, Cleveland Museum of Art, and Matt Distel, The Carnegie

Leila Khoury with Palmyra (2015) in Heavy Metal; Photo: Sarah Baker

The art of Leila Khoury is both powerful and deeply personal, and responds to the continuing horrors of the Syrian Civil War. The conflict, now in its seventh year, began during Khoury’s time as an undergraduate art student. Her family’s deep roots in the country inspired her to create work focusing the effects of the conflict.

Two works by Khoury on view in Heavy Metal directly reference places damaged by the war. Palmyra (2015) is a large pair of hanging concrete slabs, with the forms of ruins emerging from the rough grey material. Violence caused considerable damage to the ancient city in 2015. To create the work, Khoury spent an hour attempting to build an image of the city without consulting any photos. “It was a really spiritual experience because I was having to face the fact that I might never see this place [again] in my life while I was making it,” she says about the process.

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Leila Khoury, Palmyra, 2015; Steel and concrete, 84 x 84 x 24 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Leila Khoury, Palmyra (detail), 2015; Steel and concrete, 84 x 84 x 24 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Leila Khoury, Summer House, 2015; Steel and concrete, 12 x 48 x 1 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Her other work in the show, Summer House (2015), confronts the way the war has affected her family. Khoury felt that the repeated square windows of the piece evoked memories of visiting her grandmother’s beach house in Syria. She filled them with concrete to symbolize the fact that her summers spent visiting that place were over, perhaps forever. The artist salvaged the metal for the piece from a scrap yard herself. Her interest in metal comes from her kinship and experimentation in the metal shop community she joined as an undergrad, where she “became enamored by the nature of metal, and the ease at which welding enabled [her] to work large-scale.”

“It is my hope that my work brings visibility to a common immigrant experience, that which is complex and defined by mixed, often conflicting cultural identities,” the artist explains. “I am still learning how to communicate this in a language that is universal.”

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

—Nana Gongadze is the 2018 summer publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Questions with Blanca Muñoz

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Blanca Muñoz
Nominating committee: Spain Committee / Consulting curator: Lucia Ybarra, YGB Art and Factoría Cultural

Blanca Muñoz with her works in Heavy Metal; Photo: Sarah Baker

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

I like the ability to create something that seems soft and light, but is made from a heavy and strong stainless steel.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

I think it is a small representation and not very recent work, but feel reasonably comfortable.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

My most essential tool is electric welding. It gives me a way to build almost anything I want.

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

I am inspired by science, art history, nature, and the universe.

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Blanca Muñoz, Bujía, 2013, Stainless steel, 10 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 21 1/2 in.; Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery Madrid; Photo © Arturo Muñoz

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Blanca Muñoz, Sirenio, 2011; Stainless steel, 11 7/8 x 25 1/4 x 15 in.; Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery Madrid; Photo © Arturo Muñoz

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Blanca Muñoz, Atrapada, 2013; Stainless steel, 16 1/2 x 24 1/4 x 23 3/8 in.; Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery Madrid; Photo © Arturo Muñoz

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

My favorite is the exhibition Georges de La Tour: 1593–1652, which was on view at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide. This exhibition received support from Acción Cultural Española.

5 Questions with Kelsey Wishik

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Kelsey Wishik; Photo: Jessy Cook

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Kelsey Wishik
Nominating committee: Mississippi State Committee / Consulting curator: Pat Pinson, Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center

1. What do you like best about working with metal? 

Although metal seems solid and cold, it offers a great range of malleability and receptivity to shaping processes. Different metals offer strength and softness. I enjoy the physicality of working with steel. Working with metal provides me with an outlet for physical energy.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work? 

I have been investigating form and force. I’m interested in observing universal forces and the imprints they leave on life. Such forces include things like speed, momentum, pressure, flexibility, mass, and buoyancy. These forces also enter into more ethereal realms of love, nature, compassion, culture, and exploration. Each of my pieces embodies a force or series of forces.

 3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?  

My greatest tool as an artist is curiosity. It precedes all physical tools. As I’ve grown as an artist, curiosity keeps me asking questions that bring depth to my work and to my process of creating. How can I serve with art? How can I invite uplifting, imaginative attitudes without adding to the chaos? Is this work authentic? What are my intentions?

Kelsey Wishik, Sprout, 2014; Mild steel, 17 x 50 x 22 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence? 

They are infinite. I find inspiration through my surroundings, my intuition, and other people. I am influenced by literature, music, landscapes, and different vantage points. I am also inspired by rites of passage, especially those of the Indigenous cultures of North America. My interests include quantum physics, sci-fi, and energy fields (biological and geographical). Within the realm of women in metal arts, Lee Bontecou has always been a huge inspiration.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?  

The National Gallery in London’s paintings from 1600 to the 1700s, specifically works by Caravaggio and Vermeer, took my breath away. When I was younger and studying portraiture in art history, the subject seemed uninteresting. Seeing these portraits eye-to-eye was mesmerizing. Detailed faces from the past seemed alive. It was poignant to feel the passage of time preserved in a frame.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

5 Questions with Carolina Rieckhof Brommer

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Carolina Rieckhof Brommer
Nominating committee: Peru Committee / Consulting curator: Sharon Lerner, Museo de Arte de Lima

 1. What do you like best about working with metal?

Working with metal allows me to make changes. I can just cut it and weld it again. Because I make wearable sculptures, I like to think about what the material can add to the work. What can a metal apron or jacket say about the body that wears it? There is power in sewing, embroidery, and stitching, and I add a twist by using hard materials.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

I always wear my sculptures. My themes are related to a feminine world. For example, I am currently working with maternal themes. I made an alabaster belly, which I attached to my body with a leather harness. I asked women questions about maternity and it became a shared experience. I am interested in portraying my own ideas, but also seeing how my ideas connect to other people.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

I don’t think I have one essential tool, but a pencil and a camera are useful. With a pencil I can draw and write down my ideas. The camera allows me to compare my ideas with reality. I take pictures of myself wearing my sculptures and I know if something is working or not. I print those pictures, draw on them, and imagine how to finish the work.

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 3, 2004; Metal sponges and metal mesh, 98 1/2 x 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 3, 2004; Metal sponges and metal mesh, 98 1/2 x 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

I need to create something when I am frustrated by reality. There is the sense of impotence that makes me want to make something in order to cope with it. I absolutely love the work of Louise Bourgeois, and how she addresses her subjects with an amazing amount of honesty, intensity, and power.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

Rachel Whiteread’s exhibition at Tate Britain was great. The idea of casting a space and materializing the void is amazing. While I was there I was surprised by a visitor guide for blind people. How do you explain art, especially Whiteread’s work, to someone who cannot see? I love how art can open new connections and engage people in dialogue, and in equality.

I also saw an exhibition in Lima called JEDEQUE: el retorno del Cordero. Artist Miguel Cordero uses dark humor to confront reality and to talk about political issues. Cordero considers his work visual poetry, and I love this idea.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

Motifs in Memories: Symbols in Hung Liu’s Art

Throughout history, artists have imbued their works with the language of symbols to deepen meaning, create tension, and provide visual impact. Chinese painting, for example, has a rich history in which works often feature symbolic plants and animals from the natural and supernatural worlds. Chinese-born American artist Hung Liu (b. 1948) employs traditional Chinese motifs in her works on view in the special exhibition Hung Liu In Print, layering and superimposing them upon images of often anonymous figures from history, including 19th-century Chinese courtesans, laboring farmers, and migrant workers.

Hung Liu discusses her works in Hung Liu In Print at NMWA; Photo: NMWA

Liu’s 2005 series “Seven Poses” features layered imagery, frequently including animals that have symbolic meanings within Chinese culture. In one print from “Seven Poses,” a large crane fills the foreground, while a seated woman holds an open fan. The crane can be a symbol of longevity, happiness, and eternal youth. In another image, a woman lies on a couch that melds with the cherry blossom tree branches around her. Beneath her is a white swan, a symbol of grace and beauty.

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Hung Liu, Untitled (from “Seven Poses” series), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

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Hung Liu, Untitled (from “Seven Poses” series), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

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Hung Liu, Untitled (from “Seven Poses” series), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

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Hung Liu, Untitled (from “Seven Poses” series), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

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Hung Liu, Untitled (from “Seven Poses” series), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

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Hung Liu, Untitled (from “Seven Poses” series), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

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Hung Liu, Untitled (from “Seven Poses” series), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

In these works, the aesthetic beauty of the animals is aligned with that of the women, prostitutes who were prized for their beauty, but whose identities outside of their images are now lost. They are re-contextualized and collaged with these recognizable Chinese cultural symbols. When presented without context, they become cultural prototypes. Liu’s layered surfaces and expressive, calligraphic brushstrokes highlight this long process of image change and how a symbol can be meaningful or mostly aesthetic, depending on context.

Left to right: Hung Liu, Sisters in Arms I (State II) and Sisters in Arms II (State II), 2003; Lithograph on paper, 30 x 36 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Honor of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Another symbol that reappears in often Liu’s works is the circle. In Chinese writing, a circle denotes the end of a sentence. In Zen Buddhism, the circle alludes to emptiness, wholeness, and the cyclical nature of everything. In Liu’s words, circles are “a kind of Buddhist abstraction.” They cover the surface of Sisters in Arms I and II (2004), works depicting three women at different stages in life. In playful youth or hardened adulthood, they still stand arm in arm. In these detailed lithographs, the circles unite the two images, as well as provide a visual link to the Liu’s oeuvre.

Ultimately, Liu’s depictions of anonymous figures like these prostitutes and laborers are a humanizing attempt to insert them back into the canon of memory. “I communicate with the characters in my paintings, prostitutes—these completely subjugated people—with reverence, sympathy, and awe,” says Liu. By combining them with recognizable and distinct imagery from Chinese culture, she asserts their place in Chinese history.

—Nana Gongadze is the 2018 summer publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.