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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Laura Splan

New York,
USA

Laura Splan is a New York City-based mixed media artist. She holds a BFA from UC Irvine where she originally studied Biological Sciences. She received her MFA in Sculpture from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Her conceptually driven work employs a variety of materials and processes that usually have a feminine sensibility about them. Unsettling, biomedical imagery is foiled by more comfortable domestic imagery and craft processes. Likewise, the seemingly familiar and benign are subverted by the anatomical and biological. She often uses her own body in the production of materials, such as blood and discarded facial peels, for her work . She recently became a certified phlebotomist.

Her southern suburban upbringing in Tennessee nurtured her interest in the visual language of femininity, domesticity, and crafts. She explores that language as one that communicates via facade and designations of beauty and order in relation to the body or to the home. Her interest in science and medicine stems from a variety of experiences and interests. Both her father and sister worked for a company that manufactures surgical and medical products such as implants. This fostered her interest in medicine and gave her access to images and information she might otherwise not have had. Health epidemics, bio-terrorism, reality makeover shows, Botox parties, anti-microbial products, and pharmaceutical advertising all serve as fuel for her work.

Feminist Artist Statement

My work explores perceptions of beauty and horror, comfort and discomfort. I use anatomical and medical imagery as a point of departure to explore these dualities and our ambivalence towards the human body. Viruses, blood, x-rays of bones and viscera can be at once unsettling and enticing. I often combine scientific images and materials with more domestic or familiar ones. The ornamentation of wallpaper or the design of a doily lends a sort of relief in its familiarity and pleasing pattern. This juxtaposition creates a response that fluctuates between seduction and repulsion, comfort and alienation. I try to create work that evokes a dichotomous experience with formal imagery that upon closer inspection reveals some uncomfortable truth about our cultural and biological conditions. My work attempts to challenge our constructed responses to these images by triggering a double take in which viewers re-evaluate their initial perceptions.

I am often inspired by the inherent qualities of a material or process. I enjoy the experimentation that goes into the discovery that the viscosity of blood facilitates its use as “ink” or the materiality of remnant facial peel allows its use as “fabric.” Deciphering the narrative implications and poetic possibilities within these qualities is an important part of my practice. I am interested in an exploration into the historical and contemporary meaning that a culture projects onto an object, material, or image as well as in an investigation into its physical attributes. It is important that the work be reflexive and self-contained—that not only the form of an object reveal meaning but also the materials and process by which it was made.

<p>Purse #1</p>

Purse #1

“Purse #1” is a ladies evening bag constructed with remnant facial peel from the artist’s breasts. The object wavers between the delicately feminine and the grotesquely clinical in its fragile and distorted state.

Purse #1

“Purse #1” is a ladies evening bag constructed with remnant facial peel from the artist’s breasts. The object wavers between the delicately feminine and the grotesquely clinical in its fragile and distorted state.

Trousseau

The “Trousseau” series uses a transparent plastic-like material that results from a facial peel-off mask. This bizarre beauty product picks up and retains the detailed impression of texture and hairs on one’s skin. I essentially cover my entire body with the product. Once dry, I peel it off in one large “hide” so that I have sheets of “fabric” to work with in constructing the sculptures for the series. Some of the sculptures are embellished with embroidery using abstracted anatomical, botanical, and ornamental imagery as decorative motifs. The series includes heirloom objects and garments such as a handkerchief, fan, parasol, veil, negligee, gloves, and purse.

The series developed out of an interest in heirloom objects as they relate to cultural inheritance. What are the cultural constructions of beauty and femininity that are passed down from one generation to the next via objects and images? As a girl I inherited a collection of elegant pastel colored chiffon negligees from my grandmother, aunts and mother. They were costumes that I used to dress up in to play. They functioned as vehicles to transport me into the “skin” of a feminine ideal as it was prescribed by cultural and social conventions of grace, beauty, and class. The trousseau or the literal heirloom becomes a metaphor for such constructions as they are embedded in the objects and images that surround us.

Wallpaper and Negligee #1

Wallpaper is hand block-printed wallpaper. The traditional pattern is printed using the artist’s own blood as ink.

The Trousseau series uses a transparent plastic-like material that results from a common drugstore facial peel-off mask. This bizarre beauty product picks up and retains the detailed impression of texture and hairs on one’s skin. I essentially cover my entire body with the product. Once it dries, I peel it off in one large “hide” so that I have large sheets of “fabric” to work with in constructing the sculptures for the series. I treat the peel material as if it were fabric resembling organza or chiffon. The sculptures are embellished with computerized machine embroidery using abstracted anatomical, botanical, and ornamental imagery as decorative motifs.

Wallpaper (detail)

Wallpaper is hand block-printed wallpaper. The traditional pattern is printed using the artist’s own blood as ink.

Doilies (SARS)

The design of each doily is based on the structure of a different virus. I begin with a digital image of the virus, upon which I base a design in a graphics editor. The design is then imported into computerized embroidery software and the stitches are laid out and manipulated. Finally, the designs are output from a computerized sewing machine.

Blood Scarf

Blood Scarf depicts a scarf knit out of clear vinyl tubing. An intravenous device emerging out of the user’s hand fills the scarf with blood. The implied narrative is a paradoxical one in which the device keeps the user warm with their blood while at the same time draining their blood drop by drop.

Prozac, Thorazine, Zoloft

Prozac, Thorazine, Zoloft is a group of large pillows crafted out of hand latch-hooked rugs, which have been sewn together and stuffed. These soft, oversized anti-psychotics and anti-depressants provide a different kind of comfort than their prescription counterparts. The time consuming nature of the latch-hook process provides a sufficiently mind-numbing effect. Latch hooking is a simple but tedious craft that has traditionally been used to depict idealized and romanticized images from domesticity and nature.

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