Dream and Trauma
Touchingly vulnerable: Melissa Ichiuji’s textile dolls show delicate elves in body optimization mania. In her American homeland, she is already celebrated for her fierce humor.
The haptics and the woman. Her tender hands glide across the fabric with incomparable elegance, produce textile marvels with fine needles and with great skill. It is a long-standing practice; her practice; her preference for the textile is a traditional, gender-specific, trait. She is not at ease with big canvasses or monumental sculptures. Only more recently, this constant of sewing, embroidery, and braiding takes place in a context of creative female activity, in the pivot between laconia and subversively connoted appropriation. Yet, her art can be unnerving. So reflexively overly feminist, moaning, at times even ugly.
Melissa Ichiuji, the sculptor, has a different approach – it is more convincing, brutal. She deals with female disasters: personal as well as societal, going back to centuries’ history, but also serving the female toolkit of power, which is not conceivable without those disasters and which has evolved out of the alchemy of subordination, conservatism, and imposition.
Her sculptures come in the form of stuffed dolls that are up to 50 inches high, superbly garnished, and with graceful poses. They are proud, elegant, and unapproachable. They are even erotic. Their explicit sexuality shows Solipstistic properties, meaning that they are busy with themselves. The discovery of their own bodies comes rather with astonishment. And they waste themselves.
The artist, born in 1968 in Virginia, early in her career took dancing classes with dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. She toured with the musical “Hair” in Europe before dedicating herself exclusively to the visual arts. Starting from performances with old textiles, bones, hair, wood, and nylon, she turned to composed textile sculptures. That explains their outspoken body language, the perfectly frozen movement, at times in an exalted mode. It leads to an essential motive of the artist who describes impressively which superhuman mortifications women at times are willing and able to undergo. Her aim is to fathom the origins.
In her dolls she explores the phenomenon: take the three dolls who exercise cheerfully on a steel slide. Yet their white dresses are bloody here and there; some rags tainted with blood and flesh are left underneath the slide, which in fact is a plow with a sharp blade. The name of this performing sculpture group is “Trimming the Fat”.
That refers to the artist’s fierce humor, like most of her works’ titles. “Blind spot” is the name of a figure strung with red garment who sits on the floor with spread legs. Her head is covered by a latex cap and directed towards her womb, her vagina. But that is a mirror framed by rivets just as the doll’s face. Mercilessly mirroring herself, is she at an unsolvable conundrum’s mercy? Or is she free and self-confident?
And when Ichiuji opened the back of a figure that sits upright in perfect posture towards the viewer, she unites the power of seduction and the center of vulnerability in one gesture.
Melissa Ichiuji’s dolls in their surrealist attractiveness and their fetishness are radical pendants to Hans Bellmer’s famous dolls characterized by fear, trauma and coerciveness. Yet, in effect, they are tougher. Because they imbue an historic logic, an analytical perspective and an insurmountable will. That, yet again, brings the artist into close relation with the great Louise Bourgeois.
It is bizarre that Ichiuji, in contrast to the U.S., has found scant resonance in Europe. After shows in France and Belgium, she is now shown by Irmingard Rodenstock Beck in her private loft in Munich, Germany (until Jan. 30, 2014). To make an appointment firstname.lastname@example.org. The prices (EUR 6k to 12k) are very moderate. Do not say once more that you have not been alerted in time by this promising artist.