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Artists Statement


Throughout my artistic career I have felt closely affiliated with the works of the Surrealists. My early two-dimensional works utilized the figure and portrayed a narrative. Once I ventured into creating three-dimensional art I was less compelled to reveal so much of the personal and began addressing gender issues, particularly those formed by patriarchal structures. I still use the figure to tell a story, but made a leap from pastels, paint, and paper to bronze casting, sculpture, and finally to large scale installation work. Through blunt sexual imagery and walk through environments, I strive to trap my audience into feeling some of what I often feel living in American culture. I use body parts cast from molds, metal, and other various materials to shock the viewer. Process and repetition are a focal point in my art making. A common thread is my use of the elements water, fire, earth, and metal, with air being the most difficult to tackle. I feel a strong tie to the artwork of Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Remedios Varo, and Andy Goldsworthy, and admire the architecture of Frank Gehry, Antonio Gaudi and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Six years ago, an opportunity to create a large scale, outdoor sculpture presented itself and marked the beginning of a new phase in my art making. As with my earlier installations, these current works continue to comment upon patriarchal constructs, but my approach is far less literal. My obsession with process and repetition prevail, but now the sheer size of these sculptures demand this obsession of me. What is new to my process is a use of mostly recycled materials, the need to document the process, direction of volunteers, and the incorporation of myth within the work.

In 1999 I proposed to build a giant Fertility Goddess as Sundial for an annual art festival that takes place in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. With a small honorarium, I constructed a twelve-foot tall Goddess stretched back in an ancient birthing position and named her Diana of Ephesus. She was made of steel rod wrapped in expanded metal, then covered entirely with mud drawn from a nearby hot pool. I calculated, and then laid out the sundial's radiating time lines with colored gravel. By day, Diana served as a gnomon for a larger than life working sundial, with the tip of her crown casting a shadow to reveal the time of day. By night, she served as a centerpiece for an all woman performance I choreographed. The dramatic igniting of the Fertility Goddesses' yoni was the climax of the event.

“Storytelling” is an integral part of the Fertility Goddess, but it extends beyond story of everyday life and into the realm of mythology. By interweaving art with performance I saw my work reveal the future rather than tell of the past. Combining materials from the earth (mud) with seaweed, and other objects from the ocean to adorn her, then juxtaposing that with cold, hard, man-made materials (metal) was deliberate and significant to the meaning of the piece. Setting it a-blaze, in retrospect, reminds me of the work of Ana Mendieta, but the added touch of a choreographed performance with the Fertility Goddess /Sundial sitting as central symbol, and center stage, gave the piece life like nothing I have made before. Twelve women representing the hours of the day (or night), spoke with their bodies of the four elements. A thirteenth woman on stilts, with multiple breasts, acted out as the fifth element and assisted with the birthing of the four elements from between the Goddesses' legs. Through this performance I wished to convey a message about our current patriarchal structure and its relentless destruction of the environment. By re-igniting a worship of "mother earth" I hoped we would partake in an initiation of global healing. As fireworks exploded, flames engulfed the Goddess. Her mud-clad skin baked and hardened as her steel structure crumbled from within. This symbolized for me both the historical struggle of God versus Goddess worship, and the facade of patriarchy versus the lost HIStory of women and matriarchal cultures.

Through this Fertility performance the "Goddess" died yet continued to transform; and in the process, she retained a certain beauty even after her destruction by fire. The performance was documented on video while the creation and destruction of the sculpture itself was captured in photographs and placed in a handmade book. With this piece I felt I had tapped into an inexplicable power that originates with the ancients and primitives. The Fertility Goddess had planted a seed in several that had been present - three of the performers actually became pregnant within months of this event. The seed I received was a book, "Wicked, the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," by Gregory Maguire. Its opening description of a Clock Tower Dragon roaming from village to village, displaying sick and twisted theatre, devised to amuse townspeople at the expense of some poor soul, inspired me to create a moving dragon of my own.

With the creation of this dragon, Draka, I give the mythological dragon new meaning. It was in a group exhibition at the same art festival in the desert the following year that I proposed for this dragon to represent the Spirit of "man," thus fitting in with the festival's theme of the "Body." Once again, I touch upon the use of the figure, but in a rather abstract, ethereal form. Spirit had manifest into a tangible thing – a dragon. Recycled materials were gathered from local ranches. Scrap metal and 55-gal steel drums were cut to create the dragon's scales and details on her face; old cedar shingles were attached to form her under-belly. Using my sense for design, I created a comfortable, functional, and practical, yet elegant environment within the bowels of a mobile, fire-breathing beast.

As with the Fertility Goddess, there is no barrier between the viewer and the dragon. The viewer is invited in and welcome to thoroughly appreciate the art piece, not ever scolded for touching it, but encouraged to experience it in as many ways as there are imaginings. From within and from afar, visually and tacitly. No gallery rules apply. Also, like the Goddess sculpture, the dragon is connected to mythological story. Both are subjects of disbelief in a culture laden with patriarchal constraints. Through the use of mythology I attempt to create a bridge between history and the present, alas, between matriarchy and patriarchy.

Draka is an on-going project, as well as a LIVING piece of art. She sits silent over the winter months and re-awakens each spring to the heat of the sun and welding machines. Like a serpent, each year she sheds her skin and it is my job to help replace her lost or damaged scales. Cycle of Draka aside, I am currently creating a twenty-five foot tall Mermaid, named Dahud-Ahes. With this watery nymph the repetitive cutting and placement of scales has been carried over from that of the fiery dragon. Dahud-Ahes is not mobile, but more like a nautical jungle gym where Celtic mythological stories surface. The viewer is invited to walk inside her and climb up to a platform at the base of her back. A need for the observer to interact with as well as react to the work remains important to my processes and its documentation. Incorporating the elements of water, fire, earth and metal remain an integral part of my work, with recreating air presenting my greatest challenge. By interweaving art with craft and function, I hope that the viewer will somehow perceive that “LIFE IS ART and ART IS LIFE,” the philosophy of performance artist Linda Montano — I vow to live to my grave.


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lisa@drakaarts.org
  

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