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Creative Research Lab


work by Erin Cunningham

Erin Cunningham
Erin, 2006
cast iron
approx. 17" x 8" x 21" h

Catalog essay by Katja Rivera:

Making It Together. These three words are simultaneously the title of the CRL exhibition and the only guidelines given to the artists. Their art must somehow represent or demonstrate the notion of making it together. Many artists chose to collaborate; hence, making artwork becomes a collaborative effort between two artists. After a visit to Erin Cunningham’s studio, I walked out realizing that she was entering the show solo. A bit startled at my own oversight I asked myself, why is Erin Cunningham’s work in a show entitled Making It Together? Who or what is the other factor in this equation?

Cunningham primarily worked with bronze in the past. Her sculptures consisted of sections of the body that she cast from herself and friends. One series entitled “Love Handles” contained a series of cast love handles attached to actual handles that the models picked out of a home repair catalogue. Joining the wax hips to the wax handles, she then created a negative mold to pour the bronze into. Hanging these contraptions from the ceiling, the work takes on an interactive quality—the artist desires for the viewer to try to them on and to see how they fit as compared with their own bodies. In another series, Cunningham created small vanities and placed cast bronze body parts on them. They included torsos, hips, and women’s breasts. Cunningham set up the vanities across the gallery and each came equipped with various belts and straps. She attempted to create an inviting setting for the viewers to place the bronze sculpture on themselves and then to compare, to touch, to interact.

In Making it Together, Erin again uses casts of female torsos. This time, however, she intends to play with the material. Using iron, white plastic, urethanes, and other materials, each torso communicates a drastically different message. The iron denotes a hard, industrious function. Cunningham described iron as a material evocative of history, something that indicates endurance and durability over time. The white plastic, on the other hand, is far more modern and a colorless material. It displays coolness and becomes isolated from its surroundings. Other materials emit a more detached, modern feeling, capitalizing on a pristine, clean look.

Suspended from the ceiling, the torsos are accentuated by the mirrors hanging on adjacent walls. The mirrors make visible not only the objects but also the viewer interacting with the objects. Desiring to bridge the gap between viewer and object, the artist wants you to touch; she wants the viewer to interact. A far cry from the bold “Do Not Touch” signs traditionally seen in galleries and museums, Cunningham’s biggest obstacle seems to be how to bring the viewer out of their comfort zone and encourage them to interact with the work.

Through this personal interaction with the work, another factor comes into play: the issue of public and private spaces. These naked hanging torsos seem acceptable when viewed from afar. Nude bodies have been, after all, part of the canon of art throughout history. However, when one is asked to place these torsos onto one’s own body, it conjures up a state of one’s own nakedness, a very private act, and even a cause for embarrassment in a very public space, the gallery. A completely different awareness takes place—knowingly interacting with other people’s bodies while others watch you. This disparity between public and private brings about a changing and interesting dynamic between the viewer as participant and the art. This intimacy makes the viewer consider the work on a personal level. It brings to mind one’s own body shape.

This encouraged interaction with the work and the almost uncomfortable recognition of one’s body reveals the other person integral to Cunningham. It is you,the viewer. You are required to finish the art; it is your interaction, your consideration, and your reaction that the piece requires. While there is a tradition of artists who blur the line between art and life or rather between fine art and the everyday, Cunningham’s work plays with these concepts in a different way. She does not simply suggest a collision between public and private; she requires it. Asking the viewer to participate is still surprising in an art form that prompts viewer participation yet shuns the hand-on interaction with it. The new materials let her experiment with a different texture, a different affect. These materials begin to represent different aspects of the human body instead of simply depicting it. And, most importantly, Cunningham’s work makes the viewer aware. You cannot quickly pass by it and simply glance at it. You are required to connect and interact with the work in order to fully consider its function, its aesthetic, and it’s meaning.