My pictures are a type of becoming—past and future combined, both chronicle and tradition. What has happened and what can be. Photography is quite mythical, and always has been so. All picture production has potential to be perfidious and misleading. I do not produce pictures to communicate a specific thread of verity or to try to trick the viewer. I construct images to shift and open thoughts, to alter and propagate potential belief.
I do have a cat, yet, my cat is not black.
Nature, in my work, is a foundation of power, irrefutable and mystifying, both intelligible and arcane. I think animals, rocks, and plants hold keys to the known, the unknown and the essential. They are the true ancients and hold innate unspoken cues—cues that inform the way I believe that art can ultimately function effectively. It is a yearning to tap into awareness, an unspoken understanding that we are all and always will be (as humans) a very important part of nature. A call to be cognizant, to be present.
Folklore and mythology translate through the lens of my images via constructed visual abstraction—truth with a honed bend. Reality is changeable, malleable—the eternal morph. The only reality I can possibly know is time and gravity. All else is ebb and flow, wonder and dark matter.
I want the work to occupy a place or feeling of familiarity with the viewer, it can be unsettling and at the same time comforting, a humorous position and intense recognition or premonition.
It is vital for me to remember to look up and to listen carefully to the natural sounds enveloping me, acknowledge all the sentient souls, what is familiar—familial. I will follow the animal tracks. I am trying to pinpoint what scares me most when I am alone in the woods or swimming by myself in the ocean. This is relevant to me, this can and should be my reality.
Wendy Given’s “In The Land of Pioneer” uses sculpture, taxidermy, and tableaux to create photographic narratives that explore the relationship between humankind and the natural world. The project, which is largely photographed in the woods of the Pacific Northwest where she resides, includes dark, witchy landscapes, unnerving, and sometimes humorous, images of rabbits, magical rocks, candles, and psychedelic mushrooms reminiscent of illustrations from old botany textbooks. Given’s greatest strength is her ability to connect photographs that do not follow a rigid visual formula, and in turn create a method of storytelling based on common mythology that is relatable to different generations and cultures of viewers.
Each photograph begins with the selection of a single word or phrase that is tied to mythology, and often becomes the title of the piece. She pulls from traditions of folklore ranging from Scandinavia, Africa, Germany, and The Netherlands, among others, and is fascinated by their tendency to overlap. In order to stage the shoot, Given researches historical texts, folklore and imagery related to the origins of the word and then plans, scouts, collects costumes, and props. While many of these photographs are elaborately staged, they transcend the contrivances of Gregory Crewdson- and Jeff Wall-derived early art school imagery in exchange for playful, genre-defying tropes.
Given’s work is not merely a reference point to old tales, but a living mythology that she describes as “integral to the comprehension, reverence and preservation of nature as a whole.” It’s about an ongoing quest to understand the spiritual relationship between humanity and the natural world. Every object, living or not, appears to breathe and pulse, to have a soul when it confronts her lens. A spider web has the same significance as a purple Martian rock, and a dimly lit, grainy photograph of a witch has the same tension as an overturned canoe. This fluid connection between aesthetically disparate images is what makes them so successful. It allows viewers to approach the images from different perspectives and ultimately come away with a uniquely spiritual experience.
December 31, 2012
Chase Baido, Kyle Thompson, Wendy Given, Jamie Marie Waelchli, Amy Bernstein, Zachary Davis, Jordan Tull, Crystal Schenk, Holly Andres, Zoe Clark, Nathaniel Thayer Moss and Ralph Pugay. All have been active for a few years or more but they each solidified themselves in 2012 as bonafide forces who can counted on to consistently push the envelope. But it isn't just the kids, stalwarts of the scene like Eva Lake made a splash in New York, Victor Maldonado had a work acquired by the Museum Of Fine art Houston's collection. Bruce Conkle and Marne Lucas as Ecobaroque were sent to Mongolia (for good behavior and an earth art biennial). This highlights a schism between those who play a local game (IE teach at school and collect awards and grants) and an international one (be sharp and hungry, dazzling critics, collectors and curators elsewhere). It was very interesting when a young group like MSHR (and offshoot of the Oregon Painting Society) went from doing a performance/installation at appendix then weeks later was in Chelsea. In fact, the Appendix Kids are associated with a sister project in NYC, American Medium. The message to Portland institutions is, be relevant and pay better attention.
December 29, 2012
This month marks the bicentennial of the publication of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “Kinder-und Hausmärchen” — “Children’s and Household Tales,” in English, but more commonly known as Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The collection of stories — “Sleeping Beauty,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rumpelstiltskin” are just a few of the most well known — have been revised, retold, reinterpreted and even Disneyfied so many times over the past two centuries that it’s easy to forget the original tales were a potent mix of the macabre, fantastical and downright creepy.
July 7, 2011
Feb 19, 2011
I find Wendy’s work to be both funny and terrifying. Like Adam Eckberg, Wendy Given creates staged scenarios, but are much more narrative driven. While Adam’s work pays specific attention to the phenomena of light and color, Wendy’s staged work deals more with fairytales and cultural tableaux. I think what attracts me most to her work is its ability to take a genre that’s been done to death in art school, and give it a fresh life.
There is reason to note that many of the works in Wendy Given’s Turn Your Back to the Forest, Your Front to Me at Whitespace made their debut a few months earlier in a show titled How to Explain Magic to a Dead Rabbit at this ex-Atlanta artist’s Portland gallery. The title of that exhibition, an allusion to Joseph Beuys’s famed performance How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, indicates Given’s debt to mystical modernism.
Sometimes art is simply an object on a wall, beguiling for its aesthetic or intellectual properties but undeniably inert and aloof. And some work has the immersive properties of moviemaking: you enter willingly into the world the artist has conjured up, eager to be enchanted. Wendy Given’s solo exhibition at Whitespace gallery, “Turn Your Back to the Forest, Your Front to Me,” through February 26, fits into the latter category.
Left: Wendy Given, A hypgaea albus (peanut elf), fig. 2, 2008, C-print face-mounted on Plexiglas, 30" x 20"; right: Diem Chau, Hand, 2008, embroidered silk organza on ceramic cup, at Fifth Floor, Los Angeles.
The exhibition Short Stories features the photographic series A. hypogaea albus (peanut Elves) by Wendy Given together with Diem Chau's tiny human caricatures and embroidered ceramics. Both artists' work is inspired by myths and oral traditions passed on by generations. Given and Chau speak to the intimacy of family conversations over coffee and kitchen table crafts and the comfort and care that these relations imply.
Given's grouping of photographs commands the most serious attention because of its isolation on the spare upper floor of the gallery. Her C-print photographs on Plexiglas feature carefully lit peanuts against smooth black back-grounds. As a child, Given's family taught her a game-passed through generations of the artist's family in the Netherlands-that involved searching for images of elves inside peanuts. The carved peanuts in Given's photographs enlarge the "elves" to approximately thirty times their actual size, revealing a tiny world hidden in plain sight. Peanut Elf, fig. 2 (2008) stares at viewers from under a floppy hat with a clever wink, and Given utilizes the bud of the peanut to create the elfs beard. It's an incredible transformation. The dramatically lit carved orifices of the elf's face seem to take on a monumental quality while shadows exaggerate the form. Peanut Elf, fig. 9 (2008) depicts a gamine elf in profile, his delicately pointed earlobe turned toward the camera.
The peanut elves have a wondrous quality, not in that they are carved with particular accuracy, but that through an act of collective imagination, a family can bring such a small wonder to life. Given's work walks a fine line between the sentimentality marketed by commercial photography and the simplicity of handicraft. In Given's presentation, the carved peanuts seem to have an elevated importance, mimicking the role of storytelling in the perception of events and people within families.
A Vietnam native, Chau and her family came to America as refugees in the '80s. Having learned her own family's history through oral traditions, Chau relates these and other narratives via the use of common objects such as saucers, thread and crayons. Like Given's peanut elves, Chau's carved crayons are cleverly made, but Chau's work seems lost in the downstairs space where it is forced to share space with other gallery wares. The carved crayons and pencils, such as Classic Girl (2009), suffer the most because of their small scale and the crowded surroundings of the gallery. In this environment, it's difficult to focus on anyone work in particular. The ceramics are more successful in this context. Their fusion of the two handcrafts-embroidery and porcelain-is unexpected and draws the viewer in for further inspection. For example, Hand (2008) depicts a delicately gloved hand pinching a red organza thread that breaks the edge. The image appears surprisingly at the bottom of a teacup balancing the interior and exterior of the form with elegant restraint. Chau's embroidered ceramics brings to mind the wit and wisdom of Meret Oppenheim's early surrealist works, with their use of textural devices and feminine symbolism. Assimilate (2008) takes the form of an oval dish with a silhouette of a blank girl partially filled with parallel embroidery stripes. The stripes begin at the top of the figure's head and disappear at the top of the torso. Here the body is seen as a vessel for the assimilation of forms as well as the cultural assimilation Chau so elegantly describes.
-Mary Anna Pomonis
Short Stories: Diem Chau and Wendy Given closed in April at Fifth Floor, Los Angeles.
Mary Anna Pomonis is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
Sunday, July 18, 2004
By Jerry Cullum
FOR THE JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
"Home Grown" can mean several things, and Solomon Projects has taken full advantage of the ambiguity in this show of artists born, educated or working in Atlanta.
John Koegel is the example of home-grown art by an artist raised and trained elsewhere. His baroque, large-scale drawings have retained the same air of mystery, complexity and wit over the years, as shown by a grid of never-before-exhibited 1985 drawings juxtaposed with one from 2004. The other artists here, who range in age from late '20s to late '30s, got their start locally (three at Atlanta College of Art, two at the University of Georgia). All except one then went on to the Northeast or California for graduate school.
Tyler Stallings has gained fame or notoriety as an innovative museum curator, and his little paintings of big-eyed people and animals show the quality of his imagination. Poised somewhere between sci-fi and the kitsch of Margaret Keane, they're disturbing and indisputably serious, mixing and transmuting usually despised genres in the same way that his exhibitions have.
Wendy Given's "Domestic Predators" collages and photography possess a similar willingness to confront cuteness and make it scary. These intelligently arranged critters are totally unthreatening, but you'll never look at doggies or kitties quite the same way again.
Ridley Howard's preparatory drawings for paintings share this general unnerving quality, in part because they render near-cliché scenes (such as a newsworthy figure emerging from a jetliner) in a sparsely composed way that would suggest children's drawings if the faces and proportions weren't so precise.
Douglas Weathersby's photos look both colorful and ominous, since they so clearly feature swept-up dust and debris. But the DVD from which these stills are extracted is an extraordinary piece of visual poetry, creating musical-looking scenes of light and air from the paint scrapings and Sheetrock dust with which the artist works professionally.
After this profusion of emotionally arousing images, the cool abstraction of Kathryn Refi's outlines of driving routes comes as something of a respite. Her grid of linear assemblages in starkly white shadow boxes is also the perfect complement to Koegel's richly filled grid of graphite drawings; we've gone from elusively excessive images in the work of the oldest of the artists in the show to equally elusive conceptual mappings in the work of the youngest. They also happen to be the two who live here, but part of the point of "Home Grown" is the difficulty of separating out the East Coast, Left Coast or Southern strands; it may be home-grown, but it's all art, not "local art."
The verdict: A great survey of a slice of home-grown products.
WEEKEND PREVIEW Friday, Aug. 4, 2000
Wendy Given's new paintings, such as "A Spoon Full of Sugar" (2000), are long strips of images that read from left to right.
By Jerry Cullum
FOR THE JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Wendy Given, who has just moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles, became well known during her half-dozen or so years of exhibitions here for cartoonish figures that superficially resemble children's art. But her animal figures have always gone beyond the too-cute-for-words world of cartoons to embody something more psychologically complicated. And yet, even if her work is really all about human discontent, lovers of kitties and doggies and bunnies seem to adore it. Maybe this is because all of us pour our human dramas into our dealings with animals.
In any case, Given's acrylic paintings and watercolors with oil pastel are a whole lot more than absolutely dandy cartoons. They're sophisticated works of art that,wear their aw-shucks appearance as a supremely effective disguise.
The new paintings in this show work like cartoons in that they're long strips of images that read from left to right. But the story implied by the sequence is anything but obvious. There are lots of cats, half-full glasses, tableware, maraschino cherries, bottles marked "XXX," eggs frying in a skillet, houses, dogs and rabbits, plus the occasional shark. They all have associative meaning, but not even a Freudian could make glib connections between the elements of Given's private but intensely seductive symbolic universe.
Her technique, though, makes us want to hang around and learn more. The vigor of her style, whether it involves gestural strokes or lines incised into the background paint, gives her most casual looking markings a sense of logic and authority. These compositions feel personal but not arbitrary, not even in the stripped-down world of the works on paper, where only one or two images are juxtaposed.
On the other hand, they remain largely indecipherable. A line of five cherries recurs in two paintings; in one, four cherries are blue and a larger one is red; in the other, four are red and one is blue. Other repetitions, such as rows of glasses with varying amounts of liquid in them, also seem to be shorthand for a complex situation. Given writes that these works satirize absurd personal experiences "while sparing the viewer the gory, boring and tedious details." Since the art-world trend is the presentation of numbing quantities of literal biographical detail in as scatologically confrontational a form as possible, Given's politeness seems to belong to another era.
On the other hand, tales of traumas redered at an aesthetic remove have the capacity to slip past the inner censor and wake us up from within. Though Given's imagery doesn't use familiar Freudian language, it works the way Freud told us that dreams work: It condenses painful things and replaces them with something that is easier to contemplate. And though these paintings are still only promising but exciting beginnings, that process is also one of the things great art has always accomplished.
The verdict: Darkly irresistible; simple, but anything but childlike.
Jerry Cullum is an Atlanta writer and the senior editor of Art Papers, a magazine of contemporary art.
Forty Winks for the Four-Footed, the latest installation by Wendy Given, is a silly adventure composed of seven artists "curated" from the artists mind. Immediately one recognizes the bizarre scope of Ms. Given's imagination. The artists, Caprice Hatchen (a hedgepig), Alexandra Chita (a large cat), Charlie Dupee (a dunce cap), Otis Given (a dog), Chrome Aignon (a robot/modern man), Bronwyn Leighton (an egg), and Adam the Bubble Gum Man, are all displayed near or with their artworks. Each artist also has its own file itemizing interesting facts about each persona (for example: Charlie Dupee's name stems from Charlie meaning fully grown, and Dupee meaning last to trick or deceive. Also, Charlie the dunce cap was "born in a crow's nest"). The crafting of the "artists" are playful, and the various paintings and drawings of each artist provide variations on portraits of friends and loved ones. However, it is Ms. Given's intentions which thoroughly delight the viewer.
One of the primary goals of any artist, no matter how noble, is ultimately self-promotion. Not only is Ms. Given reassigning identity, but also she is resigning the authorship of her very art itself. This concept could lend itself to disastrous consequences, but in this artist's work it points towards larger phenomenon. In many ways this is an attempt to escape. Not only has the media labeled "X-Generation", of which Ms. Given is a member, been saturated with commercials, sales pitches, news friendly murder and other signs of general corruption, but conversely it has been weaned on a bizarre hybrid of children's entertainment (Speed Racer, The Bugaloos and the infinitely bizarre H. R. Puffinstuff). One of the only places of refuge has been the imagination, to which many younger artists are fleeing.
Also, the very notion of resigning authorship is an affront to the ever-increasing star power of the upper echelon of famous artists. Upon walking through any major museum, one is immediately aware of whom they are seeing. The history conjured up between artist intent, and art-writers' theology has bred a thick mythology believed and accepted by the art-viewing public. To lay eyes upon a David Salle painting is to bring to mind innumerable essays concerning the artist's place in the gestalt in art history. What better way to undercut the foundation of the hierarchical systems of art society than to un-become an artist at all? In fact Ms. Given's work is created by creatures not human at all, let alone even in the realm or "rational" thought (ex: Adam the Bubble Gum Man was discovered after being "cut from Ms. Given's hair as a child".) Furthermore the lack of Adult characterization, pushes this concept even further by under cutting the thick clouds of maturity surrounding modernism, post modernism and every other -ism to manifest itself.
Another shock to the system is that this group show of imaginary creatures is presented in a commercial gallery. Initially, one would think that what would be for sale were the objects created by the artists; and these objects are beautiful, most of which are nicely framed. But yes, the artists (as sculptures) are for sale along with their creations. Not only making for savvy installation art as such, but also making a far darker proposal about our shared culture of consumerism and art as commodity. One must not only applaud the effort of the artist but the courage of the gallery to present an art which for even the most informed art buyer, would be seemingly unmarketable.
And finally the obvious reason remains that to resign authorship is, in a way, to play it safe. The act of creation and exhibition is a severely personal act of which demands a great amount of personal security. What better way to disregard prying comments but to disclaim not only the intent of the art works but also the very creation of the objects themselves?
With an installation created from the standpoint of such a bizarre group of creatures, it is entirely too easy to dismiss the work as strictly absurdist. Almost every element in the exhibition displays large reference to a childlike imagination where our friends can be any types of creature—or thing. The drawings and paintings displayed are also childlike in look or implication. But the accumulation of all these various signs points toward unsettling meanings under the various pieces. The "artist" which is an egg, Bronwyn Leighton, displays three paintings of humanoid chickens in conversation, collaged onto which are small photos of airplanes in flight. Which brings about a dialogue concerning the lost nature of chickens as birds, the symbolic loss of flight, if not the loss of religious faith. Ms. Given seems to be trying quite hard to gloss over the pieces with so much absurdity that the actual objects begin to get lost in the larger concept of the characters. But there is meaning in the flat work provided.
In fact, general themes can be applied to the creations of the fictional characters. Most speak of kinship toward friends and family, but a certain strain lurks under the surface. A sense of adolescent confusion develops similar to the feelings one has while growing up where rules are enacted for reasons unknown or personal tragedy strikes with little consolation or explanation. Perhaps exploring the psychological nature of each persona more completely (as well as each individuals personal artistic style) could further heighten Ms. Given's concepts, as well as the enduring effects on the viewer.