Which Church




Terra Cotta
22” H x 8” W x 9" D
All fanatical, organized religion suppresses women with
an endlessly creative and unfathomable myriad of atrocities.
It is the stuff of nightmares. It is the stuff of hell.
Suppression subtle and gross,
Suppression covert and overt,
Suppression conscious and unconscious.
Suppression insidious.
Suppression incessant.
Suppression systemic.
How can you hide the moon?
How can you hold back the tides?
How can you crush the wind?
How can you cool the burning fires that smolder in the deep of the earth?
How can you tame Woman?

------------Womansculpture —April 5, 2008

(These words can be applied to any group of people who have been suppressed. In stead of the word “woman”, substitute: Dalits, Blacks, Jews, Lesbians, Gays….this list can go on and on. However, I am specifically addressing the struggles of women through this sculpture. Also, when I speak of fanatical, organized religion or the patriarchy that suppresses women I am not speaking exclusively about men. Rather the patriarchy represents the cultural oppression of women by both men and women. I will go on to say that I believe that humanity can be seen as whole and when women are suppressed, the men in the culture are also greatly damaged. However, Which Church is addressing the pain felt by women, yet this is not to say that men are not in need of healing, and have not suffered brutally through ridged dogmatic structures. Further, the Son of God should be reveled in and honored, however, rigidly organized religion, and the patriarchy have distorted the balanced yin-yang between men and women.)

Isadora Duncan succinctly states “No, I can't explain the dance to you; if I could say it--I wouldn't have to dance it!” And so, although I can relate the symbols I have used, and how I have chosen to arrange the elements of art, and why I have ordered the principles of art in such a way, and my historical references, and the mood, and what I hope you might take with you, I can’t explain the sculpture to you. I am sorry, and it pains me, because art is about communication, and I want to have that shared experience with you that will bind our hearts together. And I worry fiercely that I did not get my ideas across clearly and convey the layers of meaning this piece holds for me. No, I can’t explain the art to you. Yet, I will never stop trying. My art is married to the written word. My right brained images are in a synergistic relationship with my left brain words; they uphold one another like music and lyrics.

Looking up at the spire of an old church, the kind one sees in New England, I noticed the spire reminded me of a witch’s hat. I have had the idea for Which Church living in my head for several years now. Sometimes a sculpture lives in my head, and although it is a good idea, it does not need to breath in the world; living in my head is good enough for the both of us. But, this image kept flashing across my mind’s eye. My relationship to witches is to see them as wise women, the women who gave medicines to other women to ease labor pains during child birth.

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer sees only the front of Which Church, a building, and then as they walk around the piece they are surprised to see a witch at the back of the piece. Therefore, the front of the piece must be the church because this is the story I am telling: a history that tries to suppress the feminine, but can not. And, this is how things often are. At first glance we are only shown the male aspects, and yet, on closer inspection we see the almost invisible fingerprints of women—everywhere, yes, everywhere.

Bernini’s Medusa, housed at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome, the snakes writhe out of control, turning upon and attacking each other. Medusa’s face is anguish. Women in history have suffered, and one might imagine their faces, like Bernini’s Medusa, hardened like marble masks of pain. Yet, women have resolve at their core and can garment themselves in that strength. Therefore, the horizontal lines of my Witch-Church’s robes speak of that quiet strength.

Proportion is a consideration for this piece. Ideally, I would have liked the piece to be bigger; this is because the viewer needs to be shocked, surprised by the size of the witch: she is as magnificent and as grand as the church. Unfortunately, I do not make sculptures as large as I would like because I don’t have the room for them in my home, and I don’t have the physical strength to chuck them around my studio. I was assured when I saw a show of Dali’s paintings and was struck by how small his canvases are, and yet how much he was able to pack into such a small space--petit, yet powerful. Also, how the piece is shown will impact on its effectiveness—I will compensate for her lack of size by placing Which Church above eye level with the viewer to make her seem larger than she is.

I was talking with Verna Robinson, my mom, about my work and I was reflecting on how many of the women in my sculptures have a reserved, or intellectual distance about them, a feeling of coolness. Mom and I discussed how that coolness relates to the verity that these women can not be owned, they can not be bought. They have a strength and self-containment about them that can be perceived as cool. Sometimes, we expect our women to be warm and nurturing, like a Mary Cassatt painting, and when they are not, we can feel abandoned by the Mother archetype.

Why she is the witch pregnant? Why are so many of my figures pregnant? The faces on my Jana sculpture have been mistaken as men’s faces; they are not men’s faces, they are
women’s faces. I don’t want my work to be perceived as either made by a man, or that my figures are male, and that my work comments on the male experience and point of view. This fate has been common among women artists throughout history. Either their work has been interpreted from a male’s point of view, or the work has been attributed to male artists. Rarely, do men depict pregnant women. Instead, men often depict women as sexual beings, or the virgin archetype. When a woman is pregnant she is no longer seen as an object of desire by other men who strive to perpetuate their own genetic line. A pregnant is already committed to another man, and is no longer as desirable, or accessible. I also use pregnancy as metaphor for life and unknown potential that is ready to burst forth into consciousness.

The front of this sculpture, the church, represents the solar or masculine aspects of fanatical and rigid religious systems. The back shows the lunar or feminine traits of humanity that have survived the genocide of gender. This piece specifically references the witch hunts that took place in Europe and the New England states, yet the piece is universal enough to encompass other trials our wise women have faced through out history and that we face, in legion, today.

The church and the witch are joined together in much the same way the yin yang’s light and dark portions join to compose a complete circle. The known and the unknown; male and female; front yard and back yard; the predictable and the unpredictable; the civilized and the primitive, the conscious and the unconscious: each of these pairs join together to form a whole and inform and shape the other.

Conversely, Which Church as yin-yang parts that complete each other also speak to conflicting ideas that suffocate one other with their bound proximity. The dichotomy of these two ideas: that of the yin-yang that forms a whole, and that of two opposites bound together in a prison like suffocation can exist side by side and do not negate the other.

When I was a young girl I was captivated by the story of King Arthur’s daughter Burd Ellen. I did not remember Burd Ellen until after I had finished Which Church, and yet I know her story spoke to me from deep in the crevices of my mind. The Warlock Merlin explains that “because she went round the church windershins—opposite to the sun, she is now in the dark Tower of Elfland.” The story concludes “They reached home safely and were welcomed with great joy by fair Gwenevera, their queen mother. And never again did Burd Ellen go round the church or churchyard windershins.” (Katharine Gibson, 1901 pg. 59-68). Windershins means counterclockwise or against the sun. When we go against the sun, or against the Son of God, as expressed in rigid dogma, and turn windershins we delight in what is right brained, lunar and we discover the feminine, we see the witch behind the church, we see alongside the Son of God, the Daughter of the Divine, and we know that it is good.