From Human Hair to Plastic Beads, Girlwork Exhibition Showcases Female Artists

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Rebekah Hurst prepares "Passages I, II, III" for display at Flight Gallery on July 2, 2019.

Stephanie Marquez / Rivard Report

Rebekah Hurst prepares Passages I, II, III for display at Flight Gallery.

The exhibition Girlwork is exclusively composed of art by female artists, who use materials from human hair to plastic beads to explore themes of identity, immigration, menstruation, and domesticity. The show that opened Thursday at the Blue Star Arts Complex’s Flight Gallery features 18 pieces by eight local artists.

The show’s curator, Audrey LeGalley, is a recent graduate of the Southwest School of Art who uses porcelain and fibers to explore themes of emotion and fragility in domestic settings. Girlwork is the first show she has curated.

LeGalley, who worked on the show with Flight Gallery owner Justin Parr and gallery assistant Hilary Rochow, sought to include artists who “specifically touch on themes of womanhood or femininity, but also deal with other important themes in their work that may have less to do with womanhood.”

“I think it can be difficult for woman artists because we definitely get put in this box of making work about womanhood when we’re not [necessarily focusing on womanhood],” LeGalley said. “These artists, they’re dealing with other important themes and things like identity, and also making formal work.”

She is proud of the final look of the show, the way a variety of pieces – each using media in unusual ways to represent a range of themes – come together to make a cohesive visual whole.

Walk into Flight Gallery, look to your right and you may first notice Nicole Poole’s piece Ode to Agnes Martin One. Poole’s piece is almost deceptively simple. Translucent thread stretches across a wood frame in the pattern of a neat grid. From some angles, the grid is clearly visible; from others, the thin thread disappears against the white wall behind it. 

Nicole Poole's "Ode to Agnes Martin One" 2018 Transparent thread, nails, ash wood at Flight Gallery on July 2, 2019.
Nicole Poole’s Ode to Agnes Martin One

This half-there effect is intentional. According to Poole, Ode to Agnes Martin One is meant to evoke themes of death and memory. The piece was inspired by the late American abstract painter Agnes Martin. 

“A lot of my work, I strip everything down to the barest bones that I can get it, and I think Agnes Martin worked toward that as well,” Poole said. “She did a lot of work with the grid, so I just thought of the grid as a ghost. So, for this work, I wanted the grid to be there but not.”

In the same way that Martin’s body is gone, leaving only a memory behind, Poole’s piece evokes a painting stretcher whose canvas has been stripped away. 

“Her body is no longer there, so that’s why I wanted to strip away the surface,” Poole reflected. “But the memory, too. Sometimes you try to bring up a memory in your mind, and you just can’t bring it all or put it all together.”

Barbara Miñarro also alludes to memory — as well as places that aren’t quite there — in her work. Three of her pieces are included in the exhibition.

La Escalara is made from colorful plastic beads and hangs from the ceiling in the center of the gallery. Though it is meant to evoke a ladder, it also resembles a friendship bracelet a child might craft at summer camp. The ladder is suspended in space, leading nowhere.

A section of Barbara Miñarro's "La escalera" 2019 Plastic beads at Flight Gallery on July 2, 2019.
A section of Barbara Miñarro’s piece La Escalera

Miñarro said she wanted to focus on childhood, immigration, and the idea of home. She sees the beads as symbols of Western childhood and calls the piece “an ode to immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age.”

“A ladder takes you places, but in this instance it doesn’t take you anywhere because it’s just suspended in the middle of the room,” Miñarro said. “So, it’s this idea of wanting to go back to this place that doesn’t exist anymore, of longing for something that is not there.” Her other pieces also focus on home and loss in the immigrant community.

Rebekah Hurst also uses unusual materials to elicit emotion in her work. 

She created her piece Passages I, II, III out of raw wood and her own menstrual blood. The straight planks of light wood are juxtaposed with dark, unconfined lines of blood. Hurst crafted the piece by physically dragging herself over the planks, over the course of about three menstrual cycles. 

“This is a performative byproduct. … They might look like they took a few seconds to produce, but it actually took very long,” Hurst said. 

Though Hurst recognizes the unconventionality of menstrual blood as a material, she did not create Passages I, II, III to be jarring or controversial. She describes the piece as “a very simple gesture,” an experiment with a new medium.

“I want to see what kind of line quality it has,” Hurst said. “What is the potential of blood as a medium – formally but also emotionally?”

Audrey LeGalley described the piece as “lovely.” She had no issue with Hurst’s use of blood.

“I think it’s important to not have artists feel like they have to tone down their practices to be able to get into a gallery,” LeGalley said.

Hurst’s second piece, Portrait of Mother and Daughter, uses her and her mother’s hair, mixed and placed between stacks of transparency sheets. For Hurst, knots and tangles in the hair represent tension in her relationship with her mother. 

“Life is not easy, especially being a mother in the world that she grew up in,” Hurst said. “That’s why I wanted to show these really knotted areas.” Though knotted and imperfect, the artist’s hair is the same color as her mother’s. Entwined within the plastic, the difference between the two is imperceptible.

An opening reception for Girlwork will be held Friday, July 5, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Flight Gallery in the Blue Star Contemporary Arts Complex. The exhibition will run through July 28. The show is free and open to the public. 

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