The Art Fag City Emerging Artist Summer Series: The Art of Anne Polashenski

by Art Fag City on August 17, 2006 Events

My current work incorporates textile patterns and photographs of figures in patterned garb whichact as camouflage to hide and protect the body. The patterned worlds I am creating have a vulnerable aspect, in that, if the figure shifts out of position, one pattern could overlap onto another revealing and leaving the body exposed. In this sense, the body is locked into place in order to ‘survive’. The idea that pattern can have this effect, and leave clothing to obliterate an environment, is quirky and humorous, but it is also psychologically charged, dealing with issues about control, power, entrapment and escape. Anne Polashenski 

Pattern is a loaded device to be using in the art world, because its visual appeal is often so overwhelming, that the artist can be criticized for creating work that is easy or contrived. Artists like Anne Polashenski, who employ pattern and escape this criticism, understand that there is more to the use of a motif than simple repetition. The success or failure of this art making strategy lies in the artist’s ability to construct simple underlying structures that when built upon will create larger meaning.Within the last hundred and fifty years the art world has seen countless artists who have used this technique with varying degrees of success. Movements such as Pointillism, Art Deco, and Op Art, are well known for their use of pattern as are contemporary artists like Tara Donovan, Richard Wright and Chris Ofili to name just a few.

Drawing upon this rich tradition, the detailed surface of Paisley & Stripe Obliteration, is so aggressive in its patterning, it literally dissolves the body leaving only the head and what appears to be bound feet. The photograph is used as an anchoring device amid the fluid pictorial space which behaves as though infected with some sort of malignant mutation. Unlike most diseases we are familar with and hate, it is unclear if the figures are even bothered by whatever it is that is eating up their bodies. The diminutive woman pouts, but her expression could just as easily be interpreted as a response to some unrelated external factor, as it could be to her environment, and the larger male figure has had his face worked into the background, and it is as though he would have it that way in the first place.

Male female relationships such as these, can not be seen as incidental in Polashenski’s work, as these pieces have a strong feminist thread running through them. Certainly decorative ornamentation that binds women and girls into specific places and clothing should be seen as rather pointed criticism of the socialization of women in Western society. The use of simple metaphors such as this is often looked down upon in the art world, particularly in feminist work, which is a problem because it means many of us do not have the flexibility to allow important messages to carry the weight they deserve. In the case of Polashenski, there is the additional point, that there is greater complexity within the metaphors she works with than most will get from superficial observation.

Aptly demonstrating this point is the fact that while I can’t imagine the long history of stripes being something most of us contemplate in our day to day life, some consideration of how these patterns are used enriches the reading of the work. This particular pattern is commonly found in table clothes, napkins, and dresses; in other words, things that come in direct contact with the body. In contemporary culture stripes signify protection of the body against dirt, pollution, and external attack, and it has even been speculated that they protect us from our own desires, and irresistible appetite for impurity.** The work of Polashenski both questions these symbols by obliterating the body, and is in keeping with them, by rendering it invisible.

Interestingly, in some of Polashenski’s most recent work, she has transitioned from the use of stripes to other more viral forms of patterning. In this piece there is no distinction between figure and ground, and the female form is enveloped entirely by repeating motifs that infect and harm the body. Her newer work has a much more sinister edge to it. The viewer is not supposed to be comfortable with this patterning, Lord knows, the subject can’t be.

**Pastoureau, Michel, The Devil’s Cloth, A History of Stripes, pg 68 (editorial note: The book traces the history of the stripe, noting that from the height of the feudal period until the second industrial revolution, clothes and fabrics that touched the body directly were only white. Keeping this point in mind, and that stripes are now commonly used on such garmets, the idea that they signify chastity isn’t all that far fetched.)

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