Spotlight: Jiha Moon

The fourth installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition’s artists redefine the relationship between women, art, and nature.

Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015
Artist: Jiha Moon
Nominating committee: Georgia Committee / Consulting curator: Michael Rooks, High Museum of Art

Jiha Moon at NMWA; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Jiha Moon at NMWA; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Jiha Moon is known for her blend of traditional materials and pop culture iconography. Like a “cartographer of cultures,” Moon is interested in creating images that can be read differently by people with different backgrounds. The Korean-born artist says, “Translating cultural incongruities is one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences I have.”

Moon mixes nature and culture in Peach Mask I, Leia, and Immortal Dessert—all on view in Organic Matters. Each work incorporates the shape of a peach. A prominent symbol in the state of Georgia, the peach also represents happiness and longevity in Korean culture.

The works in Organic Matters are exemplary of Moon’s cross-cultural artistic style. In many of her works, Moon deconstructs and layers iconic images into uncharacteristic positions. Peach Mask I mixes acrylic forms together with calligraphic ink swirls. Upon closer examination, the viewer can find recognizable shapes—like those of the video-game characters Angry Birds. Through combining figurative elements and abstract, gestural strokes, Moon hopes to create kaleidoscopic works that are “somewhat familiar yet very strange at the same time.”

Jiha Moon, Peach Mask I, 2013; Ink and acrylic on Hanji paper, 38 x 38 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Jiha Moon, Peach Mask I, 2013; Ink and acrylic on Hanji paper, 38 x 38 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Although she was trained as a painter, she has also explored textiles and ceramics. Moon’s fascination with clay lies in its “long history connecting East and West. As an Asian American artist, this is such a rich area to explore and to research.” Two of her ceramic works are showcased in Organic Matters. Leia incorporates traditional colors found in Asian ceramics with Star Wars references. Similarly, Immortal Dessert melds a Cheshire cat, smiley face emoticons, and fortune cookies. All are common motifs for Moon. Fortune cookies—an American invention—are of particular interest to the artist as the “biggest misunderstanding of Asianness.”

Although her works use images from today’s culture, her materials are often traditional. She frequently uses Hanji, a Korean Mulberry paper. She said, “I buy a year’s supply when I visit Korea.”

In a gallery talk at the museum, Moon told visitors her influences are “where I travel, who I meet, and . . . things I see in nature.” She compares her surrealistic works to her life in the U.S., saying, “I always feel like I’m sort of in between places all the time and I try to find the beauty within that . . . Identity is something really complex and shifty and changeable and that type of thing is always present in my work.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Patricia Piccinini

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Patricia Piccinini, whose work is currently on view in Super Natural.

Patricia Piccinini (b. 1965)

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Laura Hoffman; On view in Super Natural

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Laura Hoffman

1. Push/Pull

Australian artist Patricia Piccinini constructs unexpected amalgamations. Her sculptures combine human and beastly features and transform vehicle parts into wild animals. The Young Family (2002–3) and The Stags (2008), both in NMWA’s collection, have been known to simultaneously allure and repel visitors.

2. Material Source

Piccinini explores the tension between nature and manufacture through her subjects and mediums. She typically employs a combination of natural and synthetic materials, blurring the lines between these two realms. The Young Family includes an unsettling mix of human hair and skin-like silicone developed for special effects in movies.

3. Source Material

The artist draws inspiration from sources as varied as anatomical models, botanical illustrations, photographs of newborn animals, consumer and car culture, and works by the 16th-century Italian painter Caravaggio.

Patricia Piccinini, The Young Family, 2002-3, Silicon acrylic, human hair, leather, timber; 36 x 65 x 50 in; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Patricia Piccinini, The Young Family, 2002-3, Silicon, acrylic, human hair, leather, timber, 36 x 65 x 50 in; Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

4. Artist Statement

The Young Family . . . [represents] a mother creature with her babies,” Piccinini says. “I imagine this creature to be bred for organ transplants. . . . We are trying to do [this] with pigs, so I gave her some pig-like features. That is the purpose humanity has chosen for her . . . [yet she] wants to exist for [her own] sake.”

5. Family Ties

The Stags is one of four works Piccinini created that use vehicle parts to evoke animal forms and the intimate relationships among these creatures. Taken as a series, the viewer empathizes with and imagines the narrative of this tight family unit.

—Addie Gayoso is associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

 

Flowers, Fruit, and Fatality

“What is natural?” is the intriguing question surrounding Super Natural. Two of the exhibition’s artists, Rachel Ruysch and Sam Taylor-Johnson, answer this query through their respective works of art. Ruysch’s painted still life and Taylor-Johnson’s video Still Life suggest that decay, death, and the passage of time are the most essential and inevitable processes in our natural environment.

Society has traditionally aligned women with nature because both can be pretty, graceful, and demure. Many of the women artists in Super Natural, including 17th-century artist Rachel Ruysch, challenge these characterizations.

Rachel Ruysch, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge, ca. 1680s; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Rachel Ruysch, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge, ca. 1680s; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Ruysch and later artists chose to infuse their art with the scientific, strange, and abject elements of nature.

Ruysch’s Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge seems to depict a thriving bouquet of flowers. However, upon closer examination the arrangement contains fatal signs of decay.

The composition’s central pink rose wilts, showing the beginning stages of decomposition. Deep purple flowers, half-hidden at the rear of the bouquet, also droop. Their shadowy hue and sagging posture foreshadow the bleak future in store for their upright counterparts. Holes in the bouquet’s large green leaves also suggest impending deterioration. These subtle elements of decay allude to the passage of time and the subsequent demise of the plants.

Even the still life’s title reminds viewers that these natural organisms will not last forever. The bouquet stands in an urn, which sits upon a stone ledge—neither setting encourages growth or life.

While Ruysch’s painting subtly alludes to decomposition, Taylor-Johnson’s video shines a spotlight on the process. In her video, a plate of fruit disintegrates over several weeks. The time-lapse video compresses the breakdown to just over three minutes. As the decay progresses, the fruits seem to sigh and exhale their final breaths slowly, collapsing into an unrecognizable pile of rot.

Like Ruysch, Taylor-Johnson does not shy away from the foul qualities of natural decay. Unlike Ruysch, Taylor-Johnson has access to modern resources and technology that allow her to depict decomposition over an extended period of time.

Even without Taylor-Johnson’s technology, Ruysch does a masterful job of alluding to the unavoidable fate of her flowers. Both artists imbue their portraits of nature with the most natural life process of all: death. These works, as well as the other Super Natural works by Audrey Niffenegger, Janaina Tschäpe, Maria Sibylla Merian, and Maggie Foskett give “death” as the simple yet poignant answer to “What is natural?”

—Christy Slobogin is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Learn more about Super Natural, on view through September 13, 2015.

Women with Wanderlust

During the press preview for Super Natural, NMWA Chief Curator Kathryn Wat stressed one fact above all others about featured artist Maria Sibylla Merian: this woman was radical. Not only did she divorce her husband—something that was socially taboo in the 17th century—but she traveled to Suriname accompanied only by her daughter.

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 18 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 1/2 x 14 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 18 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 1/2 x 14 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Merian had grown bored with the dry and lifeless specimens of exotic insects that were available for study in the Dutch provinces. She wanted to see, study, and draw the creatures from life.

Even though her Dutch homeland was more liberal than other European countries, women in Merian’s society were restricted to sheltered traveling experiences such as the Grand Tour or family holidays. Sojourns outside of Europe almost never happened for women. It was certainly not conventional to go overseas without a male travel companion. Yet Merian did exactly that, refusing to bend to the social mores that controlled female exploration so strictly. In 1699, at age 52, the artist-naturalist embarked on her journey to South America—to Suriname, then a Dutch colony—to follow her passion for studying and depicting insect metamorphoses.

When one examines Janaina Tschäpe’s contemporary photographs, also on view in Super Natural, there is no immediate visual connection to Merian’s work other than the exhibition’s broad theme of female interaction with nature. However, Tschäpe cites Merian as a major artistic and feminist influence. For example, both artists focus on death and decay—Tschäpe depicts her own demise in many natural environments and Merian shows the constant and natural cycle of life and death.

Super Natural visitors explore works from Janaina Tschäpe’s "100 Little Deaths" series

Super Natural visitors explore works from Janaina Tschäpe’s “100 Little Deaths” series; Photograph: Laura Hoffman

Notably, the artistic visions of both Merian and Tschäpe required travel. Tschäpe has stated that her “100 Little Deaths” series visually explains how every person leaves a small piece of him- or herself in each new place they visit. From the intense detail and minute observation that Merian uses in her scientific prints, it is clear to any Super Natural visitor that Merian left parts of herself with the natural world in Suriname as well. Pioneering women like Merian opened the gates for future generations of women, such as Tschäpe, to use travel to follow their passions—artistic or otherwise.

Throughout history, men have been considered the more adventurous sex. Roving artists such as Maria Sibylla Merian and Janaina Tschäpe show that the realm of discovery and exploration does not solely belong to men. They, too, got their hands dirty, showed bravery in the face of treacherous or difficult circumstances, and eschewed their comfort zones in favor of travel and new experiences. These two women—working nearly 300 years apart—followed their artistic inspirations to explore their deep personal connections to nature.

—Christy Slobogin is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Learn more about Super Natural, on view through September 13, 2015.