For her second solo show at Queer Thoughts, Mexico-City based American artist Chelsea Culprit presents a body of new work which expands upon her exploration of female representation in the visual arts, one which aims to dismantle the typically male view point of our Western art history.
Most of Culprit’s work to date features female strip club dancers in various poses— sometimes relaxing, sometimes dancing. Culprit often paints portraits of women from her own past, depicting her subjects with distinct personalities and characteristics. But in the two new paintings on view, High Spirited Chimeras with Hypnotic Digital Masks I and II, the group of women don masks and have no identifying features. Less emphasis is placed on the individual, instead their identities are more fluid, not so distinct. The focus lies on the body and the movements these figures inhabit and perform daily. The dancers are repeating the same motion here, over and over again—bending over backwards in a finale move common to the strip tease. The body parts are tangled up—the high heels, red nails, hands grasping legs— all jutting out. The work recalls and yet simultaneously flips the script on influential modern masterpieces depicting the nude female body such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907.
In the titles Culprit makes the reference to chimeras— a female creature/monster in Greek mythology made up of different animal parts. The word can also refer to a dream; a fabrication, alluding to the illusion that plays a large part in an environment like the strip club; a world all about sexual fantasies, and—more often than not—male sexual fantasies.
The two fabric pieces on view across from one another are made up of wooden panel structures shaped into two sets of women’s legs that mirror the other. Belts and chains run through explicitly-located orifices in the structures. The two women are bound together literally. The pieces are not totally sculpture, not fully painting. The hand-sewn upholstery refers to the craft of sewing that is typically deemed “women’s work,” and simultaneously references the DIY community and the various subcultures who embrace this lifestyle. The two figures create a spider-like silhouette which makes a further reference to the idea of the deadly female creature/monster.
Tru Bruja, 2018, is a hanging sculpture made up of a broomstick and a green, neon hand. The work plays with the patriarchal use of the word “witch” as a slur against women who operate outside of social norms; women with authority over men; rebellious women who are deemed to be abnormal in one way or another. Sometimes this takes the form of an older woman who is considered to be used up—past her prime, often epitomized as cruel and ugly and moreover supernaturally evil. Or the woman in question is so dangerously alluring she has the ability to seduce a man against his will. There are so many ways for a woman to be considered a “witch” in our male-dominated society. Over the past few decades there has been a resurgence of women taking back this word typically used to keep them down. Tru Bruja is a declaration of this reclamation of the witch archetype.
Though Culprit packs the small space with these five new large-scale works, each has enough room to breathe and inform the other. Together they confront a number of gender stereotypes and the contradictions surrounding the female body. Culprit’s work is a visualization of the patriarchal power dynamics in our society which are often magnetized in sexualized environments like the strip club.
Chelsea Culprit: DMing Purgatory is on through October 28, 2018.
— A. Marchak
Queer Thoughts [Exhibition Page]