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Cudra Clover: Hysteria at Lancaster Museum of Art and History

Cudra Clover, Hysterical Women, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Lancaster Museum of Art and History.

Cudra CloverHysteria

Lancaster Museum of Art and History

June 5 through September 5, 2021 

By CORI HUTCHINSON, September 2021

Through September 5th, 2021, Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH) presents Hysteria, an expansive three-part exhibition by Maui-based, multimedia artist Cudra Clover. Each individual element, spanning audio-video installation, silk paintings, and a florid, decorative space, is threaded together less by thematics than by visual pattern and material. Clover’s creative attention to the microscopic, historical hysteria, and digital interactivity culminates in hemoglobin red and jewel tone rooms, imperfect doubling, and a sensory techno-overstimulation palpable even to virtual audiences. While Clover’s distinctive microscopic maximalism magnifies vibrant cellular activity, the artist forms links and bonds between larger, seemingly disparate elements, both personal and political. 

By allowing viewers to utilize touchscreens and manipulate patterns, the artist depersonalizes the experience, inviting collaboration and a sense of communal agency, especially in the buoyant Hysterical Women installation as the audience is granted the opportunity to play both hysterical doctor and hysterical patient. The glint of cells in the timely Biomorphic Abstraction series informs their likeness to flora or precious gems. One might recall the New York Times interview ​​with medical illustrator Alissa Eckert on the process by which the spiky and iconic “beauty shot” of the coronavirus was rendered. The vague familiarity of the muscular cell forms, echoing the whole of their partial abstraction, is reminiscent of Clover’s near-mirroring in the Hysteria room and reiterates art historian Betty Ann Brown’s coining of the artist’s “intentional visual redundancy." The fluid, aquatic nature of Hysterical Women is noticed also in the ever-shifting screens hung within red, lacquered frames in Hysteria. Below, Clover and I discuss in further detail her process, artworks, aspirations, and influences. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Cudra Clover, Biomorphic Abstraction series, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Lancaster Museum of Art and History.

CORI HUTCHINSON: I am hoping you can begin by describing each of the three components of the installation and what connects or disconnects them.

CUDRA CLOVER: It’s three rooms. It doesn’t seem like it connects at first probably because, first, I did all the silk paintings, which took a long time. Some of them are close to 8 feet tall. Silk painting is really involved. I did a show here [at the Hui in Maui] that had two rooms, so I had all the silk paintings and wondered what to do with the other room. I took photographs of the silk paintings, deconstructed them on Photoshop and different graphics programs, animated them, and made wallpaper, upholstery, and carpeting. I made dresses for my performers, videos, and metal plates. I made everything I could from the silk paintings. The third room was initially supposed to be at a show at the YAM, the Yellowstone Museum of Art. They gave me a big room where I planned to put Hysterical Women and that kind of spawned Hysteria. At the time, I was going through a medical issue. I recreated Hysterical Women site-specific for MOAH. 

CH: I notice a lot of doubling and mirroring in the red room

CC: Hysteria has a couple meanings, but it’s often compared to lunacy and being crazy. I felt like I was going crazy. I was being gaslighted by doctors. Our medical system is not great anywhere, but it’s especially bad here. There’s a lot of doubling and mirroring, but if you look closely, it’s not a perfect mirror. It keeps you off-balance a little. The color choices, too, are technicolor or like 3-D glasses. I was trying to pick the most intense colors. At the first opening, a doctor approached me and asked, “Why did you choose these colors?” She later told me that women were once treated for hysteria with white walls and blank rooms. 

Cudra Clover, Hysteria, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Lancaster Museum of Art and History.

CH: And the neon centerpiece?

CC: The initial form idea was antlers, for Montana at YAM, but I was thinking of a new chandelier shape for MOAH. I collaborated with Lisa Schulte, also known as @theneonqueen. 

CH: Collaboration seems integral to your process. 

CC: I love working with people. Collaboration inspires fresh ideas.

CH: And viewer interactivity. 

CC: It’s a great way for me to keep in touch with others and build a network. 

CH: Tell me about your experience working with silk. 

CC: I never expected to be a silk painter. I typically prefer fast-moving media, but I met an artist who invited me to her silk studio in an old brothel. She left the island and left her silk equipment to me, including her steamer, which is an expensive piece of equipment that fuses enzymes and proteins together to make the color part of the silk rather than upon the silk. For a while, I was self-taught, then I looked up a master silk painter on the island and studied under her. When she retired, she left me her things, and it seemed like I was just supposed to do this. The world and its cues were leading me in this direction, so I just went with it. 

CH: Do you have any plans for future projects besides, fingers crossed, touring with this exhibition?

CC: I hope for this show to travel, but as far as creatively, I have lots of scraps of silk and am doing mixed media with them (acrylic, spray-paint, resin) and assembling them on boards. I’m also interested in fashion and would like to make sheer caftans and muumuus out of some of my biomorphic prints. 

Cudra Clover, Hysteria, touch table collaborations. Courtesy of the artist and Lancaster Museum of Art and History.

CH: I recently saw the Louise Bourgeois: Freud’s Daughter exhibition at The Jewish Museum and her use of red light in The Destruction of the Father (1974) reminds me a bit of your red room. And, of course, there’s her kindred Arch of Hysteria (1993). Your centerpiece also recalls for me the Tracey Emin quote, “Neon is emotional for everybody.” Who are your influences? 

CC: First, there’s Gustav Klimt. When I saw his art in person in Japan, I walked up to it, and the piece was breathing. You could see all of the colors in the skin and it was, like, alive. I was really inspired by the three-dimensional stuff mixed with the very flat. I accidentally or naturally do that, and am very attracted to it. Also, biomorphic art. I’m more inspired by artists that do things differently, like H. R. Giger, whose work is so technical, spooky, and dark. I like Laurie Anderson, teamLab, and Cocolab. I love performance, too. 

CH: Is there a performance element to this exhibition? 

CC: In its Maui iteration, there were four women wearing Hysteria designs who performed a piece about chaos. At MOAH, a similar performance took place with two women flown in from Maui. My music studio was called House of Chaos because I was studying physics and chaos and learned that chaos is not random, weird, disorganized energy; it’s perfected, really. Order resides within chaos, chaos doesn’t reside within order. There’s nothing bigger than chaos except maybe a hologram of chaos. A lot of people think it’s disorganization and frenzy. I hung the eight-limbed chaos figure in the Hysteria room for you to decide what chaos means to you. WM 

Cori Hutchinson

Cori Hutchinson is a writer living in Brooklyn.

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