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May 2011, Art Cart NYC at the Festival of Ideas for the New City: Hayden Dunham


Hayden Dunham, Unitil It All Goes, 2011
Art Cart NYC™ at the Festival of Ideas for the New City. Photo courtesy Christian Mroczka.

 

Hayden Dunham, Until It All Go’s
Art Cart NYC™ at the Festival of Ideas for the New City
May 4 through 8, 2011

One of the last words one would expect to describe the interior of a sprinter van covered in plastic bags would have to be comfortable. But that is exactly how it feels when stepping inside the surprisingly soothing space parked cozily on the corner of Chrystie and Stanton the morning of Saturday May 7, 2011. Founded just last year by Hannah Flegelman and curated by Margaret Knowles, both graduates of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Art Cart NYC™ is a mobile exhibition space for contemporary art, challenging artists and viewers alike to think outside the static white box of the traditional gallery environment. With many participants in the New Museum’s Festival of Ideas for the New City addressing urban issues such as environmental sustainability and community building, Art Cart NYC™’s latest exhibition Until It All Go’s, featuring newcomer Hayden Dunham, offers a refreshing variation on the theme of the state of our collective existence in an increasingly cyborg world. While other vendors attempted answers through organic farming and green goods, Art Cart encapsulated the question through man-made materials such as synthetic hair and manufactured sounds.

With a background in aesthetic theory, sustainable design and psychology, Hayden Dunham’s work began as a series of wearable experiments. Co-founder of the design collective Camp Out There, Dunham’s Fall/11 collection was presented at Williamsburg Fashion Week, and her designs rely heavily on an intuitive attraction to unconventional materials and a whimsical sense of texture and color. With regards to this impulse, which drove her to wash the entire outer surface of Art Cart with artificial wigs and cotton underwear, Flegelman elaborates, “Hayden is an artist who works with materials and aims to create spaces that are tactile and deceiving. From afar, you may be looking at this sweater with hair and think that it is knit pattern and not really know what it is; I think she really likes the idea that when you get up close and find out what it is made out of, that you have this shock moment.” But behind the unease of the hairy façade lies a relevant message about the synthetic rendering of nature, in a womb-like space to contemplate the void.

Stepping into the Cart, one is transported into a surreal wonderland of white fluffy clouds and birds chirping a soothing lullaby. Egg shells hang from the ceiling like grapes for a Utopian Bacchus, some inlaid like nipples into the billowy breasts lining the walls and ceiling. A hair nest rests in a back corner, the tail snaking through the truck around the pillow-like pouches - a lazy river on another planet. I sit in the furry throne, queen of all that is eerie and nostalgic, fertile and fragile. But what at first provides a placating haven becomes unsettling as one realizes the clouds are plastic bags stuffed with paper, cloth, and Styrofoam – nothing is natural. This begs the questions - how much of our world today really is natural? How much of our bodies are really natural? Aside from aesthetic and prosthetic supplements to our bodies such as wigs, hair weaves, acrylic fingernails, and breast implants, we are constantly feeding our bodies synthetic substances in everything from energy drinks to over-the-counter prescriptions. Yet, as Knowles points out, “It’s not entirely creepy. It’s warm and inviting, familiar. There is something that welcomes you in and supports you and envelops you, and that’s what makes you feel safe. But at the same time you’re reminded that this safe place has been designed for you by someone.”



Raquel Paiewonsky, Muro (Wall), 2009

In the decidedly feminine way in which Dunham addresses the relationship between our essence and our surroundings, as well as themes of origin and the body in our postmodern world, her work calls to mind that of one artist in particular - contemporary Caribbean feminist artist Raquel Paiewonsky, whose work focuses on bodily mutations, gender stereotypes, and cultural constructions. In line with the theme of Dunham’s exhibition, Paiewonsky has stated that she, too, has “always been interested in the body as a vessel capable of containing our life experiences within itself, sometimes in mysterious and subtle ways, other times more forcefully.” Both Dunham and Paiewonsky use the body to create conceptual art that explores the impacts of their respective environments on their psyches and exposes identity through the tools of abjection, a term feminist writer, philosopher, and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva emphasizes in her 1982 essay entitled Powers of Horror as the “horror of being”.

In this essay, Kristeva poetically addresses the condition of a loss of faith in unified rational or religious systems (in contemporary times we can add technological systems to this list), viewing the individual subject’s sense of abjection (the universal human condition of being in many ways servile to the ultimate powers of ones emotions, the psyche, and the universe as a whole) as the fundamental condition that these systems work to mask. She emphasizes abjection as the “horror of being”, but states that this abjection is shrouded by societal structures (religion, identity, technology) we impose to create the illusion of order, control, and stability. Only by unveiling this abjection that society serves to cloak, can we harness its true power. In my view, Dunham does an excellent job of addressing this sense of abjection in a relevant contemporary context.

Like Paiewonsky’s piece entitled Muro (Wall) from 2009, Dunham produces numerous repetitions of the breast, ultimately hanging them all together on the inside walls of the truck like a three-dimensional mural. So far removed from the context of the body, it is difficult to identify the breasts as such when viewed from afar. Here, both artists use repetition and fragmentation to underscore this bizarre disjunction between body part and body. In addition, through Dunham’s use of such unnatural man-made material for a body part that is so intrinsically life-giving, we are reminded just how inhuman these plastic breasts are and strangely feel more in touch with our own mortality. For Paiewonsky, focusing on bodily mutations has allowed her to “experiment with new ways of merging elements of urban life, gender stereotypes, and stress with nature, spirituality, and instinct. In other words, through this sort of visual laboratory I can take a closer look at our postmodern world, and I can take to its utmost limits that most amazing human trait of adaptability.” With Art Cart as a vessel, Dunham, like Paiewonsky, stuns and captivates her audience into a state of reflection and meditation where one is compelled to contemplate the female form, feminine identity, fragmentation of the body, and the state of our humanity as we know it.


About Art Cart NYC™

Art Cart NYC™ is a mobile exhibition space that motivates people to think imaginatively about exhibiting and experiencing art. Building on the movement of art in alternative spaces, Art Cart NYC™ works with young artists, performers, and curators to organize dynamic public events in which exhibitions and performances are staged around the parameters of a truck. Its events build strong connections between members of a burgeoning interdisciplinary artistic community, and its web presence perpetuates the conversation about an emerging generation of creators. Art Cart NYC™ constructs unique situations that demonstrate how art is approachable, engaging, and socially valuable.



Hayden Dunham, Unitil It All Goes, 2011
Art Cart NYC™ at the Festival of Ideas for the New City. Photo courtesy Christian Mroczka.



Hayden Dunham, Unitil It All Goes, 2011
Art Cart NYC™ at the Festival of Ideas for the New City. Photo courtesy Christian Mroczka.


Hayden Dunham, Unitil It All Goes, 2011
Art Cart NYC™ at the Festival of Ideas for the New City. Photo courtesy Christian Mroczka.


Hayden Dunham, Unitil It All Goes, 2011
Art Cart NYC™ at the Festival of Ideas for the New City. Photo courtesy Christian Mroczka.


Rebecca Rothberg

California native Rebecca Rothberg graduated from Washington University in St. Louis where she received a B.A. in Art History. She worked in several museums and galleries specializing in modern and contemporary art including the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Beverly Hills, White Flag Projects in St. Louis, and The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. She has also worked with fashion photographers Ash Gupta and Guiliano Bekor. Rebecca currently resides in New York City. Contact her at rebeccarothberg@gmail.com.

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