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A detail of Analia Segal's work (Courtesy photo)
Finesilver Gallery features 'Feminizing Forms?,' featuring artists Analia Segal and Ethel Shipton

"Art is form struggling to wake from the nightmare of nature," Camille Paglia writes in Sexual Personae, her successful bid to become persona non grata on Mars and Venus.

Like that often misunderstood work, a lot is going on in the new show at Finesilver Gallery, "Feminizing Forms?," that can't be reduced to a politicized discussion of male and female proclivities. Curator Kate Green means the title as the beginning of a discussion, and she has framed a volatile exhibition with highly crafted works of art.

Paglia sees the Apollonian eye of Western culture at work everywhere, struggling to contain the inchoate forces of brute nature. The stark, straight white walls of galleries, offices, and bathrooms are gatekeepers and talismans, ensuring not that we all conform as is often supposed, but that we can maintain barriers that differentiate us from the rest of the mucky biomass that makes up planet Earth. Woman symbolizes the overwhelming forces of creation and destruction, oblivious to the mere individual; hard male structures, from the Washington monument to monotheism, represent a desire to control life at its most feral.

Argentine Analia Segal plays with similar ideas by installing sensual organic shapes along edges and in random clusters on existing walls, using plaster, joint compound, and paint. The building suddenly betrays us in precisely the way we expect not to be betrayed by architecture. In prior installations, such as

Opening reception 6-8pm September 25
Through October 8
11am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday
Finesilver Gallery
816 Camaron #1.02
"Marcel" at the Dumbo Arts Center in New York, the not-entirely manageable aspects of our bodies that we strive to euphemize or hide - orifices, fluids, dissolution - are personified by the walls which formerly stood as symbols of our ability to master the elements.

The installation at Finesilver is more reflective of Segal's benign-sounding inspiration for this body of work. Segal grew up on a ranch in Argentina. From a young age she was fascinated with the way animals subtly alter a new space by wearing their tracks into it over time, forcing a finite enclosure to make some accommodation to their presence even as they are shaped by the structure. Among bipeds, historically, men have built structures and women have made them homey. The artist makes this gradual psychological give-and-take visible by exaggerating the divots and abrasions we leave behind.

Ethel Shipton, like Susan Graham who makes machine guns out of homemade sugar paste, or Sharon Engelstein who stitches inflatable, anthropomorphic blobs, adapts a practice generally associated with women to predominantly male expressions. Her padded and softly contoured skateboards are in one sense feminized, but Shipton's art (machine stitching, rivets, vinyl upholstery) evokes industrial production as much as craft. This kind of work is more often

One of Ethel Shipton's re-upholstered skateboards. (Courtesy photo)
the provenance of poor people working in sweatshops and maquiladoras than women stitching at home. The vinyl, in team jersey colors and Xtreme sports hues, transforms drudgery and labor into an idealized action. Vehicles of exertion and physical transcendence become playthings of indolent luxury - evoking images of professional jocks with incomes greater than the GDP of some countries. At the same time, they restore some joy and perspective to the hyped-up world of sports stars and marketing by returning a sense of approachability to these idolized boy toys.

Shipton's corseted bats and tools are another matter. Their threat of violent power, the ability to manifest will by force, is confined in the way women's bodies have been confined in the past and it accomplishes the same binding magic - heightening and fetishizing the latent danger.

Segal and Shipton are feminizing forms, but not in a predictable or easily pigeonholed way. •

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