KIRSTEN STOLTMANN: 1R GALLERY
By James Yood
A certain fantasy of the American Southwest as barren, inhospitable, timeless, stony, and impassive--Mars with sagebrush--has long held a grip on the American imagination. Kirsten Stoltmann, who lived in the Midwest before her recent relocation to California, assesses and reinforces this mythography with the fascination of an outsider.
For her video projection Renegade (all works 2003), Stoltmann literally embedded herself in the denuded landscape, using a hidden armature that suspended her horizontally between, say, two outcroppings or two boulders. In a series of extended, meditative not-quite-vignettes, she appears amid the desolate scrub as simply another feature of the landscape. Both of and not of her surroundings, Stoltmann appears to hover or levitate and occasionally, as the camera leisurely pans in or out, slowly raises an arm as if in a trance. This near rigor mortis functions as a ritualistic homage to the eerie strangeness of the West and to our spiritual or meditative associations with it.
Female figures within that history are rare; perhaps this is one reason Stoltmann arrays herself as a kind of androgynous Western every-person, in a white shirt, black jacket and pants, and red bandanna. To say that in the end this video contains suggestions of the kind of holistic magic and mystery one encounters in the sleuthing novels of Tony Hillerman, for example, is no criticism of Stoltmann. There is a suggestive and spooky quality to the spaces of the West, an extraordinary sense of aloofness, and her video takes on and furthers this enigmatic allure while reflecting on it as a cultural obsession.
The show also included four carefully adorned tumbleweeds.
These plants are sculpted by nature--uprooted, they roll and roll around the landscape, simultaneously dead and mobile, wind and rock abrading them into rough, round shapes. Stoltmann festooned her prickly spheres with bits of stuff--chips of turquoise, feathers, silver ornament, fragments of colored cloth--of the kind Native Americans might have employed to (superficially) similar ends.
ROUGH BUSH AT ALLSTON SKIRT GALLERY
Los Angeles-based artist Kirsten Stoltmann recognizes the suburbs as ground for major pathological unrest, and her new exhibition at Allston Skirt Gallery, Rough Bush: Artifacts and Heirlooms, takes as its icon the tumbling tumbleweedseen through Stoltmann's eyes as a roving plant making its way through the isolated desert and into the decorum of the suburban household.
In Rough Bush, Stoltmann's preoccupation with the suburbs manifests itself through knick-knacks, statuettes, tapestries and objects found in common Laura Ashley or faux antique d'cors, as she merges gender and racial conflicts with autobiographical association, referencing where she grew up and what she identifies as problematic within that experience. Using found and made objects including a swank Southwestern rug, chrome and gold tumbleweeds and a coffee table with a base decoupaged in naked women and roses, Stoltmann identifies representations of women and American Indians as stand-ins for nature and spirituality, generating similarities through the use of clich-laden images and objects. She presents these objects in conjunction with memoir photography, creating a nuanced installation relating to the above topics.
As in all of Stoltmann's work, the elements of vulnerability and baggage are key. 'Rough Bush works to undo what every common suburban household values most safety through stuff. It also reveals the artist's vision of the suburbs feeling of safety as achieved through contrast; a web of prejudices, chemical dependencies, general misinterpretations and co-opted spiritualities teeming with underlying sexual tensions or the unknown goings-on of teens, gangs, punks, Goths and rappers are necessary so that a return home to one's Laura Ashley decorated room feels truly safe.