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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Art exhibit tackles ‘insatiable’ appetites

Published: February 11, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

We want more: more food, more money, more power, more sex—we are never satisfied with what we have and are always hungering for what we do not already possess. In the juryed exhibit “Insatiable,” currently featured at the Kniznick Gallery in the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC), 42 artists tackle modern society’s endless appetite and the resulting consequences in a wide array of art pieces ranging from digital prints to found-object sculptures.

Art can serve as a reflection of and commentary on one’s culture. Artists can take what they see of the world and create works that presents their unique view to a public. Their works can have the power to highlight specific aspects of a society and spark discussion. The pieces exhibited by the WSRC attempt to make viewers confront their culture’s “rapacious appetite” with varying degrees of success.

When I first entered Epstein, I had several expectations of what I would find. The fact that all the pieces were on the theme of our over-consuming society made it so that some works were a little predictable.

There were paintings and sculptures of obese subjects; there was a painting of an American flag with dollar bills for its stripes and pennies for its stars; there were paintings of food and photographs of malls. I’m not saying that there was anything technically wrong with these pieces or even that they were boring, just that there were a few that seemed to skim the surface of the theme, making it an object to glance over rather than an object to contemplate.

Take for example, Amy Guidry’s “The United States of Consumerism,” which takes the most recognizable symbol of America—the flag—and transforms it into a monetary construction. It’s very obvious. Maybe I lack a critical eye, but what is there to ponder about that piece that can’t be determined with a sweeping glance? America has often been criticized for being a consumerist society and Guidry illustrates that, but, for me, that’s all the piece does—make a literal depiction of a commonly-held criticism. Then again, maybe that’s the point of Guidry’s work—the viewer’s reaction or lack of reaction. Have we accepted our consumerist society? Have we become dulled to that criticism? And is that dangerous?

Despite the predictability of some of the art, overall the exhibit was full of pieces that provided interesting lenses through which to look at society’s vices.

One piece that made me consider gluttony was Nina Prader’s watercolor “La Rotonde,” which presents an interesting study of naked full-figured female forms. The women depicted are in confident stances, their folds and curves illustrated in muted pinks and grays. It’s unclear what Prader is criticizing—the women who seem proud of their rotund physiques or the media’s perception of beauty—both could be possible interpretations. Rachel Bee Porter’s “The Joy of Cooking #6” was another engaging critique of gluttony. In a vibrant digital print, Porter shows an elegant cake smashed to bits, revealing the danger of pairing aggression with food.

Morrix’s “Hero” dealt with the subject of materialism in a unique way. His mixed media piece resembles a shrine from afar, but as one makes out its details, it becomes clear that the shrine is constructed with cheap plastic toys of cartoon characters like Aladdin and Hercules. In today’s culture, what heroes are children idolizing?

Most of the art was successful in making one consider the consequences of living an insatiable lifestyle. Anne Percoco’s “Indra’s Cloud” forces one to confront the result of misusing and destroying earth’s resources. The digital photograph shows a small floating cloud of empty plastic bottles on the Yamuna River in India. The cloud was a public sculpture project that involved more than 1,000 water bottles and, after its completion, the cloud was floated around the town of Vrindavan. Percoco took an ancient tale and made a modernized version of it, a parable that cautions people to respect one’s environment or face unwanted consequences.

Yet, the one work that I will remember the most is what, at first, seems like a simple piece. Marli Diestel’s untitled photograph shows a couple window shopping. The girl has her mouth open and her hand pressed to the glass of a store, her eyes glazed over with desire. Her boyfriend, laden with bags of merchandise, looks longingly at a beautiful passing stranger. I interpreted this as a portrayal of two different longings, the desire for another person and the desire for an object—both portrayed through the direction of their gazes.

I was struck by the thought that I, like the girl, was trying to find meaning by looking at objects. The very act of going to a museum or an art exhibit is placing importance on things. There is a difference, however. The girl looking at the items in the shop window is doing so with a gaze that is clouded by lust, while my looking at the objects was disconnected with desire. Maybe museums and exhibits can teach us how to treat objects properly—to consider them in the context of how they reflect upon society.

“Insatiable” provokes its visitors’ emotions and thoughts with a variety of pieces that ultimately makes one consider the costs of human desire. The exhibit will be in the Epstein building until March 15.