Story last updated at 3:31 p.m. Thursday, September 12, 2002

'Mental-smithing' class offers cultural critique
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Cecillia Meyer curls some pasted advertisements on her creation Sunday at the Kachemak Bay West Campus.  
With scissors in hand, a group of women spent last weekend creating art not just for aesthetic appeal but for the process of creating a critique of the world they live in.

Behind the fashion magazine and high-heeled shoe slaughter that made up much of the weekend was Susan Kingsley, a postmodern metalsmith known for thinking outside the box, or perhaps more specifically, in it. Kingsley uses her art to analyze consumerism, representations of women in advertising and other topics, and often packages her art much like the product she is commenting on.

One example are her price tags, small, metal blank tags that she sometimes wears on her clothing in such a manner that people might think at first glance are real price tags left on by mistake.

"I look at advertising as a mirror to our culture," Kingsley said during a slide lecture of her work at the Bunnell Street Gallery last Friday. "All of the industry is based on belief, suggestion."

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Susan Moeller and Susan Kingsley discuss her work.  
Among the items Kingsley took to task were a pair of stiletto high-heeled shoes. In one work, Kingsley took an X-ray of her foot in the shoe (thanks to the fact that her husband is an orthopedic surgeon.) The title? "Aesthetic prosthetic."

These ideas and more inspired the students of Kingsley's postmodern "mentalsmithing" class, billed as an opportunity to "conceptualize and make objects that connect us with the social, cultural, political and economic world we live in."

For some, such as Nancy Chastain, that meant exploring the reality of why we labor in jobs, such as fishing. Chastain created a work featuring consumer items cut from magazines hanging from large, rusty fish hooks.

Others, such as Cecilia Meyer, created a long scarf pasted with consumer items promoting cultural ideals that are commodified through advertising such as flawless skin, shiny hair, and indirectly, happiness and freedom. Meyer then wrapped the scarf around a hollow glass head filled with words like "outsider," "bitch," and images of disfigured faces -- the kinds of traits we might try to keep others from seeing in us. The scarf represented all the things advertising tries to sell people to cover the imperfections of our existence, Meyer said.

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Rika Mouw cuts out paper dollar signs for her poster.  
Another artist, Marilyn Kirkham, found inspiration in the idea of taking a pair of heeled shoes out of circulation. Kirkham skewered the shoes with branches and hung them in an XtraTuf boot box.

"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but these shoes will never hurt me," read the text she attached to the box.

All of the participants explored ways of putting familiar cultural objects within a new context and using the juxtaposition of those objects to further draw out and comment on the personal or cultural meanings attached.

"Making an idea into a material form isn't always direct," Kingsley said of her own efforts in that direction. "Taking out everything extraneous and getting to the core of the idea is harder than it would seem."

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
A pair of blue pumps speared with twigs and set in an Xtra Tuf box comprises Marilyn Kirkham's work.  
Kammi Matson, Homer News production assistant, contributed to this story.

Carey James can be reached at cjames@homer

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Marilyn Kirkham's work, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but these shoes will never hurt me".