Earlier this month I had the pleasure of viewing Ann Wood’s exhibition, Violent Delights, at Women & Their Work in Austin. The show combines two- and three-dimensional works: embroidered canvases surround a central tableau. Animals and conflict are unifying themes. The centerpiece sculpture features full-scale taxidermy forms coated in various crafting media: silk flowers, sticky, dripping, taffy-colored goo, and sewing pins that resemble rainbow sprinkles. The beasts are engaged in a prey/predator drama. A lone swan drifts across a glittering slick that suggests a Sanrio reimagining of the La Brea Tar Pits. There is a sense that the viewer might get pulled into the chaos or unwittingly sink into the twinkling muck. The scale of the animals in the gallery’s space forces the viewer to confront them in close proximity, and the effect is intimidating. The animals’ realism has been so deliberately obscured, however, that there is no risk of confusing the sculptures with life. These are clearly not the towering stuffed grizzlies of natural history museums. However, their to-scale massiveness exudes a similar threat.
This sense fits seamlessly with the artist’s stated interest in “the idea of being lured into a dangerous situation.” This experience of risk, the Galveston resident asserts, comes partially from having witnessed the chaos and destruction of Hurricane Ike in 2008: “This event and my lack of control made me feel extremely vulnerable and I started to look more closely at the natural cycle of growth and decay that occurred around me every day.” Wood notes that a strong interest in the themes of fairy tales has also resurfaced since having children.
As two-dimensional works, the embroidered canvases are less threatening than the sculpture, simply because they do not intrude upon the viewer’s space (and perhaps more importantly: we do not intrude upon theirs). Inspired by Spanish and Dutch still-life iconography, they feature dead and dying animals, some suspended ready for the chopping block, others in the final throes of The Hunt. Inlaid in the matter of one animal’s blood are small red hearts, and the butcher-bound beasts are suspended by pretty bows. Could there be anything more castrating than this flagrant cuteness?
This pairing of violence with sweetness permeates the show. As spectacles, both are equal in their decadence. However, the sugar and too-cute bows transcend mere self-indulgence. The icing and sprinkles are nauseatingly saccharine, reminiscent of childhood birthday cakes and waxy dimestore truffles. The sticky textures and candy colors signify an edible quality that is alarming to contemplate. We regularly consume violence in daily visual discourse, but Wood challenges us to envision physically consuming it. The violence and the sweetness are mutually subversive, where the drama of the former is made ridiculous, and the preciousness of the latter is revolting. Wood confronts the viewer with a direct fetishization of violence, and despite the “natural order” presented, it is deliberately disquieting.
I only wish she might have tried the multi-sensory (slightly sadistic?) social experiment of including sugar cookie and vanilla cream pie air-freshener plug-ins.
Violent Delights runs October 4 – November 17, 2012 at Women & Their Work.
Visit Women & Their Work’s site for more information about the exhibition.
Visit the Gallery:
Women & Their Work
1710 Lavaca St.
Austin, TX 78701
All images and quotations come from the artist’s website, where you can view more of Ann Wood’s work and learn more about her.