The Color of Conflict
The object is yarn. The subject is war.
Color of Conflict is a collaboration of photographer John Hensel and artist Susan Hensel.
Always a multimedia artist who seeks narrative, Ms. Hensel has brought the world of fiber art into her studio practice. Color of Conflict is a show of photographs that wrest the meaning from a series of yarns that Susan has spun. These yarns, containing army toys and the colors and forms of armed conflict, can be knitted. But their true horror is revealed in the photographic display.
In the art world, one talks about transgression. Transgression can be loosely defined as breaking expected boundaries or expectations. Yarn is expected to be soft, warm, useful, at times even life saving. It is often associated with leisure, craft and women's work. Rarely is it thought of as an object, a material or a subject of fine art. In this project, yarn paradoxically uses its traditional softness to express a hard/harsh/violent reality. It uses its allusions to its life saving properties( warmth, padding, protecting) as a field of discussion about war and death. It uses a "women's art" to discuss a "man's pursuit."
This body of work was completed during a six month sabbatical from gallery life. Ms. Hensel took the risk of closing Susan Hensel Gallery for six months in order to return to studio practice and research. During the sabbatical she has spent much time exploring the narrative capabilities of fiber. She has become part of the artyarn movement, a radical group of spinners who push the idea of what yarn can be to it’s maximum. Usually, it is a lighthearted game, spinning Christmas baubles and Halloween eyeballs into fluffy masses of wool. It’s mostly about process and fun. Susan loves process as much as the next person, but process alone does not satisfy her in the long-term. She has been adding, multiplying, accreting and inserting meaning wherever she can in handspun yarn.
Just looking is an installation with soundscape and interactive realtime video. It was built from hundreds of daily self portraits, a script written based on a national survey, the voices of four performers, the videography of John Hensel.
Art has a way of making the invisible visible. It can be a spiritual endeavor, a political statement, a sociological construct. Art is a visual way of asking questions, creating sensate memory of seeing and being seen, of looking.
Looking is powerful
I am watching you like a surveillance camera in a dressing room.
I am watching you like a voyeur.
I am watching you from my invisible status as an aging woman.
Looking can empower or diminish.
The eyes are the first and essential means of communication between the mother and the baby in her arms, between friends, lovers, enemies. We read one another by looking each other in the eye. We may hear words spoken, but we see the truth in the depth of the eyes.
And yet, in all of western art history, the default gaze is exclusively male. In this piece, the tables are turned. It is the woman whose eyes assault, invade and capture the viewer in a singular moment. If the woman is not in power, is otherwise invisible, unseen, unheard…here she is taking back control. She returns the gaze with force, with repetition, demanding again and again to be seen… asking again and again how it feels to be caught looking… demanding again and again how it feels to be the unexpected recipient of the female gaze. She dissolves the wall between the art and the viewer, capturing the lookers and absorbing them into the artwork against their will. She is demanding.
Open your eyes.
I dwell in Impossibility
a collaboration by Susan Hensel & John Hensel
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors – Emily Dickinson
I dwell in an aging body:
emptied of fertility by circumstance and time,
denied power through chance of birth and age,
yet still impossibly fecund with possibility.
I dwell in the creative impossible, choosing to depict the transgression of gender role interacting with age; to create a poetic representation of both diminishment and power, neither male nor female, impossibly pregnant...liminal in all possible ways. Neither one nor the other, neither yin nor yang.
This suite of photographs is a collaboration of the performer and sculptor, Susan Hensel, and the photographer, John Hensel. When collaborating, Susan sets the parameters of costume and objects to be manipulated and then allows the collaborator to direct the action. Drawing on extensive study of African masquerade culture, she allows the objects and costumes to inhabit her will, allowing her aged, broken body to dance free in the spirit of the costume.
What is pictured here?
Susan, a sixty-four year old woman, pregnant, wearing a power suit and celluloid collar.
In truth, tired, drugged, in post-surgical condition, constrained from using her right arm but wearing her scars proudly. She channels a sensual force, dancing in a masquerade.
The imagery reveals a transgressive combination of outright sexual power with outright male power. There is a certain shamanistic aspect to this, the mysterious power of birth vs. the physical male strength and political power.
The handmade paper pregnant belly was cast from molds made progressively of a young pregnant woman as her body swelled with life. It is also a repurposing of part of an old installation called Erin's Belly:Protected Real Estate.
In Artwork 1 Susan holds her uterus, given to her as a talisman when she had my hysterectomy.
In Artwork 2 she holds a screen meant to obscure her face without obscuring sight. It is often used by criminals.
A woman wearing a man's power suit defies cultural expectations.
Pregnancy is an image of creativity, but also an image of youth. Here an aged woman wearing a pregnant belly and exposing false breasts again defies expectations.
"It's hard for me, at the age of 64, to understand gender as construct. In my days in the college classroom, gender was what you were born with, while behaviors surrounding gender were mutable. Both the language and the understanding has changed. In this new millennium, I can think of gender as a costume, a masquerade, imposed or chosen." -Susan Hensel