I have long considered themes of the body. Drawing on my knowledge as a fashion designer, I bring materials and hardware from the fashion industry into my artwork transforming and rendering them non-functional. My sculptures relate to stories of isolation, separation, and confinement. Presently, the United States has the world’s largest incarceration rate. This has caused me to give thought to my own family dynamics as they relate to incarceration. My work is an examination of the transgressions of my family. Sister Vessels and Father Curtin, my grandparents, had a love affair while still ordained and later fled the church. In my mind, these transgressions are bound to the experience of another family member, incarcerated in a state prison. This duality of circumstances, how the U.S. treats the physical body and the mind, and my family’s encounter with imprisonment, has driven me to explore the many ways in which America’s correctional facilities dominates its citizens’ bodies and minds. Consequently, inspired by these different elements in my work, I analyze how the United States penal system controls, constrains and restricts the body through physical and psychological wounds. Furthermore, my work examines how the Catholic Church controls people’s minds and behavior through a ritualistic belief system.
Using the architectural structure of the octagon as it relates to an all-encompassing vantage point, my sculptures bridge the sacrament of penance and the penitentiary. From the surveillance of a prison tower to the watchful eye of God, these forms embody constraint and control. Bound, dirty and distorted in scale, a corporeal existence saturates my monumental sculptures. The amputated and protruding bumps are bandaged, while restrictive straps are pulled taut. There is a direct relationship to the body, yet not completely figurative.
One of the ways that the U.S. controls the physical bodies of its citizens is by incarcerating masses of its population which is reflected by the high rate of individuals in prisons. The state has the desire to gain control of the physical body in order to gain control over the mind. Considering this, I have created sculptures that are segregated, solitary cells which I imagine a body could fit into. (fig. 4-6) They are sealed off structures, albeit for the embedded grills which are punctured, manipulated confessional booth screens. These grills create boundaries between sinner and priest, prisoner and guard, and the concept of heaven and hell. At the same time, they become breathing holes for a mythical underworld or a passageway. I have used black along with the white of the plaster. The darkness represents a mysterious, shadowy underworld of damnation, chaos and death and yet, it is the source of light. While these forms allude to something out of a science fiction movie, they are in the shape of an octagon. It references the panopticon of Michel Foucault’s surveillance state where he describes a society that is always being watched. The octagon allows for central viewing on all sides; those being watched are unable to see when and by whom, they are being watched. I connect this with today’s society as we are monitored in our daily lives with the implementation of CCTV on roads, airports, shopping centers, schools and homes. A person living in the strictly controlled environment of the United States prison system, is subjected to the constant threat of surveillance that subsequently modifies their behavior. According to Michel Foucault, we have created a disciplinary society that is not only a form of power but also a form of control.
I have created visceral totemic sculptures that are larger than human size. (fig. 1-2) They are over 7 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide. I have pulled, stretched, bound, wrapped, and stitched elastic, a material typically used on the inside of clothing, sourced from the garment district. The elastic reminds me of skin but also of a straight jacket. The spoiled markings throughout appear as bodily fluids and bruising. I have stained and colored the elastic with coffee, dye, iodine, coconut oil and liquid latex. There is a medicinal quality with residual scaring and a suggested atrophic form. The constricting straps are connected with industrial hooks and women’s undergarment hardware. These bent metal fasteners feel cold and forced. The concave and convex forms allude to dismembered or severed body parts contained within it. These sculptures attempt to reference pain, torture, and control. Moreover, an implied violence is imposed on these carnal forms advocating a palpable psychological effect of the oppressed female body.
I use elastic straps to convey restraint and obscurity. The tension implies sexual dominance and control. Psychologically speaking, these systems of control and conformity desecrate the minds and behavior of its citizens through power that is exercised by the institution of the Catholic Church. For example, the Catholic Church recruits young women to enter into the religious order by becoming nuns. These women are required to take a vow of chastity, poverty, and obedience. My grandmother, who took those vows as a teenager and later broke them, questioned her identity throughout her entire life. In my sculptures I attempt to capture what the guilt of this perceived sin and disobedience might look like.
I have no doubt that my grandparents felt deep shame, remorse and self-doubt, upon leaving the church as they were disowned by both family members and friends. Although their previous life had been kept hidden from us, they continued to practice the rituals of their faith. As a child my grandmother would take me to an old basement church for mass. I remember going up to the front of the church and kneeling down at the Altar Rail. The purpose of this rail was not only to receive the Holy Eucharist but was used as a demarcation of the chancel and a strict separation between parishioner and clergy. In my sculpture Barricade (fig. 7), I have created a rail that is about the same height of 2 feet and 6 inches. I have made it unstable to signify shifts that occur from one moment to the next.
In the United States, we enjoy the separation of church and state. While one’s individual beliefs may spill from one area to the next, there is no interference between religion and the government. However, it may be the goal of these institutions to exercise control and constraint over its parishioners and its citizens. My work speaks to the fragility and repercussions that may occur with this type of dominance.
Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, MA (forthcoming 2019)
MFA in Sculpture, Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), NY, December 2018
BFA, Brooklyn College, City University of New York (CUNY), Brooklyn, NY
A.A.S, Fashion Design, Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York (SUNY), NY
Koenig and Clinton, Entering A Song, Brooklyn, NY 2019
Hunter College, City University of New York, MFA Thesis Exhibition, 205 Hudson Gallery, NY 2018
Hunter College, 205 Project Space Gallery, Loop-N-Path, NY, 2018
International Print Center New York, Printfest, New York 2017
Bronx Council on The Arts, Longwood Art Gallery, In the Realm of Dreams & Fears, Bronx 2013
NARS, New York Art Residency & Studios, Convergences, Brooklyn, NY 2012
NARS, New York Art Residency & Studios Bridges, Trees, Skulls, Pies and Other Treasure Trails, Brooklyn, 2011
NARS, New York Art Residency & Studios, Ready, Set, Create, Brooklyn, NY 2010
The College Art Association, NYCAMS Regional BFA Exhibition, NY 2007
Brooklyn College, Honor Society Exhibition, Brooklyn, NY 2007
Prizes and Awards
The Tow Research Stipend (Brooklyn College), Takt Kunstprojektraum, Berlin, Germany 2007
Charles G. Shaw Memorial Award for Artistic Excellence in Photography, Brooklyn College, NY 2007
Cerf Award for Artistic Excellence in Sculpture, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY 2005, 2006
Residencies and Fellowships
Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, MA (forthcoming Summer 2019)
The Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, Brooklyn, NY (forthcoming September 2019 – August 2020)
Sculpture Space Residency, Utica, New York (forthcoming October – November 2020)
The Studios at MASS MoCA Artist-in-Residence, North Adams, MA 2019
Publications as Author
Framing Community: Magnum Photos, 1947-Present, Exhibition Catalogue, HIRMER Publishers,
2017:94-97, 112-117 Peter van Agtmael, Buzzing at the Sill, Larry Towel, Then Palestine, No Man’s Land 2017
Magnum Photos: Inside Out, The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, NY 2017
Framing Community: Magnum Photos, 1947-Present, Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Gallery at Hunter College, 2017
Hunter College Graduate MFA Sculpture Seminar, Teaching Assistant, NY 2017
Hunter College Undergraduate BFA 3-D Seminar, Teaching Assistant, NY 2017