Heather Cantrell: Weirding Way
Carter & Citizen, Los Angeles
May 4 to June 8, 2013
By Megan Abrahams
The nucleus of this exhibit is one staged still photo, manipulated in numerous ways to alternately probe, reveal and even conceal, clues to the inner make-up of the subject’s psyche. A self-portrait, it is a frontal view of Heather Cantrell’s face. On the surface, her troubled gaze looks slightly upwards, seemingly focusing on nothing such that in effect, she is gazing inward. The viewer looks on, paradoxically a witness to the act of introspection.
The artist adapts elements of the primary image to create unexpected, often discordant, effects. In the color version of the photo, the face is painted red, a disturbing clue that becomes more subtle in the black and white prints in the series. In addition, Cantrell transforms a key visual element of the image, taking it out of context and bringing it to life. In the upper left hand corner of the photo, a glittering sequined cloth appears in the background. Integrated into the installation are swaths of the actual sequined cloth, as pictured in the photo. The cloths are draped around or over sections of some of the prints with dramatic impact. Variously treated like a curtain, a backdrop, a veil or something almost reminiscent of a hajib, in some of the pieces, the cloth selectively hides key parts of the subject’s identity from view. At first look, the images are unsettling; disconcerting partly because the subject herself is apparently troubled. After further consideration, this gut reaction gradually evolves into a feeling of empathy for the artist and her self-portrayal.
Cantrell created this series of self-portraits after a turbulent move from Los Angeles to New York in 2012. In them, she bares something of her soul, exposing her personal struggle with change, and alienation. The title of the exhibit, Weirding Way, connotes layers of significance. By weirding, she may be suggesting an obscure definition of the word, to induce a sense of disbelief or alienation in someone. Perhaps also relevant, is another archaic connotation of weird -- as in, concerned with fate or destiny.
With paint and other tools, Cantrell has added another twist on the actual C-prints. One of the prints is framed behind shattered glass. Across the surface are little starburst cracks, which might have been rendered with hammer and nail. The subject appears to look outward through the cracks, her troubled expression here seeming to suggest the cracks may have caused her evident distress. In Your Universal Cycle, (2013, 62 X 46 inches) the surface of the C-print is scratched with a pattern of fine white lines radiating out from the center of the face to the edges of the image. In another iteration, Looking Through You, (2013, scratched C-print, polyester, acrylic), Cantrell has defaced a color print with a network of scratches, the whited out eyes as the focal points. A sequined cloth hangs behind the print, lending a sense of theatre. In Monomyth, white lines of paint criss-cross the surface of the image. A curtain of sequined fabric is suspended down the middle, concealing the center of the face, leaving the subject trapped behind on the other side.
The series is connected by a prevailing theme of fractured images and defaced features. As if an attempt to salvage something whole from the fragments, one final piece, Let’s Put Me Back Together, (2013, custom puzzle, 3 X 8 X 6.5 inches / 14 X 9 inches), is a limited edition of 100 prints, fashioned as a custom jigsaw puzzle. Neatly presented in a tin box, sections of the artist’s face can be seen as puzzle pieces through the clear lid. With this ingenious device, the artist reaches out for catharsis, relying on us to assemble the puzzle, thereby playing a role in her healing process. Symbolically, she invites us to help shape her fate or destiny by restoring her broken image.
Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings.
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