Fragments of Femininity

An Illustration of the Artist Kiki Smith by Miriam Ivanoff for Materialist Magazine Issue 01

A comparative analysis of the work of Tracey Emin and Kiki Smith

Tracey Emin and Kiki Smith have starkly different visual approaches in their art yet thematically their work is inextricably intertwined. Both women eschew the expected and express different aspects of both the feminine psyche and life itself in unpredictable ways. Emin is radical about love; Smith about life and death. Their work is often both precious and difficult to stomach (think Emin’s blankets and Smith’s statues excreting beads). They are provocative, evocative and not afraid to expose themselves – a raw honesty radiates throughout their work that is rare to find.

This honesty manifests itself as Emin cries out for intimacy by exposing details of her private life that others wouldn’t dream of revealing. In a letter that accompanies My Abortion 1990 she recounts the moment when, in a London taxicab, her body expelled a second fetus, overlooked during the initial procedure, “I had killed the thing which I could love the most. Forgive me, tiny little thing… Forgive me – leave me.”

Smith is honest in her portrayal of the female form in unconventional ways – often from the inside out, neutralizing it so that it stands for mankind as a whole, challenging the tradition of male artists to paint the female in an erotic light. In How I Know I’m Here, a massive linocut, Smith depicts several internal organs, including a heart, brain, lungs, and reproductive systems splayed out around etched lines that represent her own feet, face and hands. Although Smith’s work can be seen as rather feminist, honing in on this as a political statement can be a mistake, or at least a dangerously narrow view. Her approach is far more personal – she explores the significance of how the body functions systemically in order to gain a stronger grasp on reality.

Smith’s probing stops at no bounds and delves into the human body’s most intimate inner functions – urination, menstruation, reproduction, and so on. She creates statues excreting bodily fluid in the form of beads. By making urine or menstrual blood beautiful, Smith probes at our societal reaction to such things. She also emphasizes the lack of importance we normally attribute to these fluids by placing them on an altar in jars with gothic lettering, each fluid in equal standing.

Emin does not shy away from the exploration of the significance of bodily fluids either, confidently displaying used tampons alongside her sketches giving the two equal importance. In My Bed, Emin displays her bed after a depressive episode, covered in suspicious stains and leaked menstrual blood in all its glory.

For Smith and Emin, the body is in perpetual motion. Neither artist has any shame in laying the ghastliest aspects of femininity stripped bare. This introspection strips their work of pretense down to an almost primeval level. The exposure of the self creates a vulnerability that leaves the work open to interpretation.

This vulnerability is also reflected in the use of humble craft materials. Smith uses papier-mâché for many of her sculptures and Emin uses appliqué techniques and household fabrics to create her patchwork quilts. The lack of durability of these materials as compared to that of objects like bronze sculptures creates a sense of urgency that reflects their need to create their art – to express something physically that has been building up inside. Emin’s tapestries show fragmented sentences; often just words, names or phrases. Smith’s works consist of fragmented body parts, with no logical context in the body from a biological standpoint, with the spleen and bladder displayed next to the more socially glorified heart and brain. These fragments add to this sense of urgency, as both artists emphatically express that nothing lasts forever.

The exploration of the ephemeral is so honest and pure in Smith’s work that her art can be difficult to write about. She is not trying to make a statement. Instead she follows whatever is preoccupying her at the moment without necessarily knowing why. “I don’t want to be trying to do anything,” Smith says. “When I was younger, people’s work was so expressionistic that to me it felt indulgent or self involved.” Based on this view Smith may not be a fan of Emin’s work, which is often self-indulgent. Emin is this big, booming voice that is deliberately loud because she desperately wants to be heard. Yet the honesty still permeates through Emin’s willingness to be open about a past as she sees it, inspiring the viewer to look back to the events that brought them into their present state of existence. Smith may be better at playing the innocent, but she also questions the nature of our existence through her exploration of life, death and the existential.

The autobiographical component in both artists’ work allows them to question our existence from a personal level, where they each recognize their own struggle. Emin uses her confessional art to deliberately bare her soul on canvas so that the spectator feels that they immediately know her on an intimate level. Her honesty supersedes the unfamiliar and this is what makes her art beautiful. Smith often features her self in her work, literally and physically. She is the first to admit this: “My work was very autobiographical. In the pieces about birth I was trying to reconcile an ambivalent relationship to being here on earth because earth is a difficult place to be sometimes.” Emin and Smith both create art through this therapeutic method of working out on canvas whatever is preoccupying their minds at the moment. Smith has said, “I’m just trying to make my life okay. I’m just trying to have a good life; that is my ambition: to be better at being here.” Emin speaks of art as her raison d’être, as something that has saved her life many times. To this, Smith would agree, “You know, we’re not doing research; our lives are at stake.”

Collapsing Boundaries

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Isabella Huffington, artist, Yale graduate and daughter of Arianna, takes us through her visionary creative process.

What inspired you to get into art? Was it something you’ve always wanted to do?

I always did art when I was young, but it was more as a hobby. I did more classical things like figure drawing, and I was never that into it. Then I remember in a figure drawing class I started working this modern background and I thought, this is actually enjoyable. So I started focusing on that more and it instantly captured me. After that I started working with Sharpies. I just had them around. I don’t think I would have gone and chosen Sharpies, but the medium works.

I love the Sharpie pieces that look like jellyfish. What are they meant to be?

They’re flowers, but they could be umbrellas or anything. I like the different interpretations. I just started doing three-dimensional flowers, which has been a lot of fun.

Other than nature, what objects inspire you to create your art?

I really like the idea of collapsing the boundary between fine art and everyday objects. Even Orbit gum wrappers – I just think they have the coolest pattern, and so do tissue boxes. We put so much effort in making these beautiful pieces to go in museums, but people generally don’t put in the same amount of effort for the things we see day-to-day. In Japan there is no boundary between the two. Even the wrapping paper there is special. So I’m interested in breaking down the boundaries between art and the everyday. One of the artists who does this, and who really inspires me, is Keith Haring. I created a piece that I based on his designs and his objects. Another artist that does this well is Yayoi Kusama. Those are the two artists I absolutely love.

What was it like studying art history at Yale and how did you find the time to work on your own art simultaneously?

It was good the first three years, but the fourth year was hard because I wasn’t an art major but an art history major, so there was a real divide between what I was studying, which I find incredibly interesting, and what I actually do and want to do. I just want to stay home and work on my art. I work in six-hour blocks, which was really hard when I had class. So I went to class, obviously, but getting myself to go was very difficult because I just wanted to work on my art. And at Yale they want people to stay on a certain track. The other side is always telling you to go into consulting or banking, which I think is unfortunate because when you don’t 100% know what you want to do, then you end up going on one of those tracks, which may or may not be right for you.

Do you know with certainty that you want to be an artist for the rest of your life?

I do, and I also want to do more decorative arts through working with companies and putting my art on objects because, again, I am really interested in collapsing that divide and making art accessible to a greater audience. I don’t think you should have to go to the museum to see beautiful things.

You helped collapse the divide between fashion and fine art with your collaboration with the fashion brand Ports. Can you tell us more about that?

That was fantastic. It was a lot of fun. My art was up in the New York store for two weeks. I had an opening show and then we had a big party, which was funny because I’m a big introvert, so at first I didn’t want to do it. But once you get there, it’s fun and it’s exciting. It’s always fun to hear other people talking about your art because they give it such better meaning than you ever could.

Bendigo babe

Zinzi Edmunson reports on young Hollywood’s essential retro accessory.

When a costume designer, especially an in demand and talented one, tells us about a single item that will elevate any outfit from the depths of dullness, we tend to perk up and take note. Between film and TV jobs over the past two years on the sets of Bridesmaids and 90210, costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier created a line of sunglasses inspired by the tree-lined streets where she spends her summers in the serenity of Eastern Long Island. “Clothes are so everyday,” she says, “I wanted to create something fun and cool; that an L.A. girl can throw on with no makeup or a simple outfit and still feel glamorous.” The result: a line of wood grain acetate sunglasses that hit all the marks in two styles and five color ways. As intended, Bendigo Frames are a surefire antidote to even the worst case of sartorial doldrums.

www.bendigoframes.com

X-ray vision

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Photography by Nathan Perkel for Jalouse

In the six years since Nathan Perkel left Northern California for New York, he has produced a vast and successful body of personal and commercial photography imbued with a playfulness and energy that affirms the rapid success he has achieved in his field. His commissions have taken him into the bedrooms and closets of fashion kids such as Dylan Kawahara, associate designer at Opening Ceremony and blogger Leandra Medine, otherwise known as The Man Repeller. Perkel’s lens has animated and elevated their everyday objects, proving them worthy of their illustrious owners: bracelets, bongs and tiny toy dinosaurs radiate the eccentricity of their collectors and elbow for Perkel’s focus, angling to be brought to the attention of a larger public. Perkel is interested in photographing people above all else and his interest is so intense that these still lifes become convincing mirrors and extensions of their collectors, like a bionic part of the whole. Materialist commissioned Perkel to shoot his own most inspiring objects. Our writer Arianna Jacobs sat down with him over drinks near his East Village apartment to discuss the possessions that compel him to create.

Do you have a certain object – the camera would be an obvious one – that epitomizes your personality?

I can think of a bunch of them, for example this old blanket I pulled out two days ago to watch a movie in McCarren Park. It’s pretty awesome. It’s a felt blanket with images of Snoopy all over it. And I have all these trinkets because my father passed away when I was young. Every year my Mom pulls out this big box and it’s full of little things of his and she lets my sister and I take one of the things. It’s really cool. Also, skateboards are important. I collect all the boards I’ve ridden since I moved here. I have a stack. I’m thinking I will take them to a spot where people skate and give them away and photograph the kids I give them to.

Are there any skate photographers you admire?

There’s a bunch of people like Atiba Jefferson at the forefront of skate photography. When I grew up looking at skate magazines I always looked at Daniel Harold Sturt who would print his own photos. I was also inspired by Brian Gaberman, he would take this unconventional approach – doing platinum prints – this old method of photography and incorporating it into skate photos where it wasn’t used. Nowadays I don’t look at skate magazines much, but I definitely watch all the videos. Oliver Barton is another really good photographer. He’s from England, used a Hassleblad and brought European skate photos into America. With traditional photography, I also have so many influences and things I look at. Every week there’s another thing that I think might be some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen.

What have you seen recently in terms of non-skate photography?

There’s a book that’s been on my coffee table for the last month that I look at all the time, Atlanta by Michael Schmelling. He’s inspiring in the print aspect because he’s been so adamant about making books. He had access to southern rap culture, which at the time hadn’t been photographed as much. It’s this beautiful book of portraits of rappers and really niche things.

Why did you decide to move to New York when you did?

I graduated from school and was assisting a bunch of photographers in San Francisco and I set a date for myself. I always do this – set long-term goals. If I say to myself ’I want to move to this place in four years’, then you’re putting it together and if you have your eyes open to an idea – and that goes with anything – if you’re thinking about it, the opportunity will present itself. It’s when you’re not aware of what you’re trying for that it goes right by you.

For the full interview, order your own copy of Materialist here.

For more of Perkel’s images please visit: www.nathanperkel.com


Editors letter

Caroline Tillette photographed by Lisa Roze
Fashion by Louise Hall-Strutt
Dress by Paco Rabanne

Materialist is a magazine stemmed from semiotics its angle is to use the lens of the object as a means to discover the personalities that drive the fashion industry. The main criticisms of fashion are that it’s both too self-referential and too superficial.

The objective is to obliterate these stereotypes by redirecting the focus towards other material items. As creative-types are inherently collectors who form attachments to unique material things, whether it’s art, design or other eclectic tchotchkes, the goal of Materialist is to establish a deeper connection with people in fashion by getting to know them through their most influential possessions. Our hope is that this inaugural issue of Materialist proves to be an inspiring object in and of itself.

Jocelyn Jeffery
Editor-in-chief