Imaging Conflict

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Goddess and Centaur
archetype, archetypes, co-existence, hieroglyphs, rites of passage, woman as activator, woman as protagonist, goddess, woman as elegiac, monoprint, woman as continuous presence, re-imaging women, reimaging woman, eye as moving camera, tracing archetypes, ancient archetypes context, absence of context, goddess, centaur, Greco-Roman influence, repetition of image, allies, enemies, conflict, non-space, Roman vase, Roman urn, origins of archetype, cultural figures, figure as archetype,lance, rites of passage,birth to death, woman as activator, woman as protagonist, woman dancing, woman as continuous presence,feminist, eye as moving camera, monoprint on paper,
description

Spero’s work is itself a site of conflict and we become anxious looking at her works.  When we see humans, they are engaged in torment or assault; they are the victims of machines, of physics, or of each other. They are often distorted, all distended corpses and snakelike bodies. Her titles reference the conflict that she depicts; for example, 1972’s Codex Artaud XXV takes its name from the French playwright Antonin Artaud, who claimed that theatre should be created as an act of cruelty. Given the  feministFeminism essentially comprises a number of social, cultural and political movements, theories and philosophies concerned with gender inequalities, and equal rights for people of all genders. Especially since the late 1960s, when the feminist art movement can be said to have emerged, women have been particularly interested in what makes them different from males — what makes women artists and their art different from male artists and their art. This has been most prominent in the United States, Britain, and Germany, although there are numerous precursors to the movement, and it has spread to many other cultures since the 1970s. Feminists point out that throughout most of recorded history males have imposed patriarchal (father-centered) social systems (in which they have dominated females). Although it is not the goal of this article to recount the development of feminist theory in full, the history of feminist art cannot be understood apart from it. Feminist theory must take into account the circumstances of most women's lives as mothers, household workers, and caregivers, in addition to the pervasive misconception that women are genetically inferior to men. Feminist art notes that significant in the dominant (meaning especially Western) culture's patriarchal heritage is the preponderance of art made by males, and for male audiences, sometimes transgressing against females. Men have maintained a studio system which has excluded women from training as artists, a gallery system that has kept them from exhibiting and selling their work, as well as from being collected by museums — albeit somewhat less in recent years than before. (Artlex.com)  themes in much of Spero’s work, she does not seem to  advocateAdvocacy is the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, an idea, or a policy. Active support. This term is often used to refer to efforts to support specific art disciplines, or organizations, etc., as well as of support for the arts in general. Advocates are the ones who promote advocacy! (artlex.com)  this cruelty; instead, she invokes it in order to suggest that it exists already in the society her art inhabits.  (Codex Artaud XXV can be seen at Artnet)

Consider the Mendel Art Gallery collection’s Goddess and Centaur seen here, for instance, which uses ancient Greco-Roman visual  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter. The goddess wields a lance - she is nearly naked, but also armed. The repetitions of her image and that of the  centaurA fabulous being, represented as half man and half horse. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  block us from seeing whether they are allies or enemies, whether they charge together or against each other. We are unsure of the nature of the conflict, but the conflict itself is imminent.

Roman vase Furthermore, the figures float in a non-space, much like the figures on Roman vases (such as the one seen at right) and urns, with no background to support them. They are without context, suggesting that they exist everywhere and at all times. Spero therefore provides us with a pair of archetypes, recurring symbols that she sees as common to many ages of human history, even though we can trace their origins to ancient times.

Spero refers to these archetypes as "figures derived from various cultures [that] co-exist in simultaneous time...The figures themselves could become hieroglyphs--extensions of a text denoting rites of passage, birth to old age, motion and gesture...Woman as activator or  protagonistOne who takes the leading part in a drama; hence, one who takes the lead in some great scene, enterprise, conflict, or the like. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  dancing in procession, elegiac or celebrator a continuous presence, engaged directly or glimpsed peripherally; the eye, as a moving camera, scans the re-imaging of women."  (Reprinted: Courtesy Nancy Spero from an unpublished 1989 statement by the artist entitled "The Continuous Presence.")

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Why might Spero have chosen a snake as a threat to a birthing mother? What might this be relating to?
  • Do some research on other uses of “Mother and Child” figures throughout art history. This is a common theme in European art.  Why do you think this might be?
  • Spero suggests that she is using archetypes in her work.  Can you find other examples of works on the ARTSask website that make use of archetypes? How are they similar or different from Spero’s uses of archetype?
Advanced Activity

To learn more about Nancy Spero, go to

And you can also click on the tabs below to learn even more about Nancy Spero.

Advanced Activity

 

Online Activity
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Click on Spero’s image to simulate a continuous viewing experience.

Studio Activity

Create a story  friezeA decorative horizontal band usually placed along the upper end of a wall. In ancient Greek art architecture, the part of the entablature between the architrave and the cornice. Also, any sculptured or ornamental band in a building, or on furniture, pottery, etc. Parts of a processional frieze that once decorated the Parthenon are in museums in London, Paris, and Athens. (Artlex.com)  (see below for an example carved in stone)

Here are some materials you can use to create your “story frieze”:

  • Tempera/acrylic paint
  • Sponges
  • Gels or coloured pencils
  • Brown shelf paper
  • White paper
  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks or pots of white glue
  • Computer/scanner printer or tracing paper
Frieze

Storytellers and artists often give animals mythic and “human” capabilities. They use animals to explore the many characteristics (good and bad) of humankind.

Select an animal to represent one of the following:  a human quality, a strength, a failing, or an issue in today’s society.

  • Think of one or two other characters and create drawings for them as well.
  • Draw your characters carefully and lightly with pencil.
  • Scan your drawings into a computer and print them out as multiples, or use tracing paper.
  • Collage figures onto the scroll.
  • Look at some of the work of Nancy Spero as inspiration. You may want to research more of her work through the links given below, or through Google.
  • For more inspiration and information on Spero's work go to the Advanced Activity section

Try the above idea as a monoprint.. The following site gives explicit details in how to create a monoprint: http://www.monoprint.com.  (Tip: Most of the instructions call for printers’ inks but it is possible to use  acrylicSynthetic paints, with pigments dispersed in a synthetic vehicle made from polymerized acrylic acid esters, the most important of which is polymethyl methacrylate. First used by artists in the late 1940s, their use has come to rival that of oil paints because of their versatility. They can be used on nearly any surface, in transparent washes or heavy impasto, with matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finishes. Acrylic paints dry quickly, do not yellow, are easily removed with mineral spirits or turpentine, and can clean up with soap and water.(Artlex.com)  paint following their instructions for water-based media. If no press is available, heavy objects such as books or boards can be used to press into paper.)

This site also describes the process of  frottageThe technique of rubbing with crayon or graphite on a piece of paper which has been placed over an object, or an image achieved in this way. Also simply referred to as rubbing. Such impressions are usually made from such highly textured subjects as leaves, wood, wire screen, gravestones, and manhole covers. It was a technique especially employed by surrealists, one of whom, Max Ernst (German, 1891-1976), first introduced frottage in his works in 1925, often employing such rubbings as part of a collage, or combining frottage with painting techniques. (Artlex.com)  which allows text or images to be transferred. There are alternate ways to do this, using  acrylicSynthetic paints, with pigments dispersed in a synthetic vehicle made from polymerized acrylic acid esters, the most important of which is polymethyl methacrylate. First used by artists in the late 1940s, their use has come to rival that of oil paints because of their versatility. They can be used on nearly any surface, in transparent washes or heavy impasto, with matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finishes. Acrylic paints dry quickly, do not yellow, are easily removed with mineral spirits or turpentine, and can clean up with soap and water.(Artlex.com)  medium coated on the  printAn exactly repeatable visual statement which exists as two-dimensional physical material.  copy and soaking to allow it to “float” off the page. A medium for this purpose can be found in  craftThe production of work involving the use of skilled hands.  stores or suppliers.

References

Artnet. Nancy Spero. Retrieved from the Internet on February 14, 2008 at: http://www.artnet.com/awc/nancy-spero.html

Wikipedia. Nancy Spero. Retrieved from the Internet on February 14, 2008 at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Spero

Art21. Nancy Spero. Retrieved from the Internet on February 14, 2008 at: http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/spero/

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning