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Claire Stigliani: Half-Sick of Shadows
Claire Stigliani: Half-Sick of Shadows
On View May 28 through September 3, 2016
Opening Reception with Artist Talk, June 3, 6-9 pm
MADISON, WI—In her first solo museum exhibition Claire Stigliani presents her most recent body of work, which includes mixed-media drawings and paintings, three-dimensional puppet sets, and video-based vignettes. On view in the museum’s State Street Gallery from May 28 through September 3, Claire Stigliani: Half-Sick of Shadows explores contemporary notions of feminine power, desire, and self-understanding. Combining her own anxieties and fantasies with fictional stories about women who transgress, Stigliani creates indulgently colorful work whose pop-culture cuteness only temporarily veils an unabashed expression of psychological longing.
The exhibition presents five separate but interrelated series, each based on a story Stigliani derived from a literary source or her own active imagination. In each, the artist’s process starts with a single drawing that subsequently serves as inspiration for a hand-built table-top puppet theater. Intricately decorated with carefully scaled scenery, backdrops, and objects, these miniaturized sets are populated by marionettes of the story’s principal characters. Stigliani animates her doll-like puppets with clumsy and stilted movements, manipulating them to play out scripted scenes, which, in turn, she incorporates into videos. Switching mediums yet again, she reproduces the theater set as an acrylic and mixed-media painting with imagery derived directly from still frames of the footage. Visually mimicking the cutting and reconfiguring of video editing, Stigliani’s paintings are dense compositions of skewed and condensed spaces: sometimes they exist as one frame, sometimes they combine layers, and sometimes one painting contains multiple scenes. The spaces contain mirrors and screens that record, reflect, and project each story back onto itself. Taken together, the drawings, paintings, puppet theaters, and videos examine how the artist’s narratives build on and fold into each other, and also how they reflect outward, offering a glimpse into Stigliani’s personal relationship to creativity.
Of the five series in the exhibition, three depict moments from recognizable stories Stigliani has poetically re-interpreted: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; Angela Carter’s The Snow Child, a subversive retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White; and Lord Alfred Tennyson’s tragic tale about the Lady of Shalott. In addition to these three vignettes are two that are semi-autobiographical and take place inside artist’s apartment and her art studio. Within each of the five bodies of work, the female characters partake in a self-referential exercise of artistic creation. The act of making becomes a principal task of life.
For the series that unfolds within her apartment, Stigliani’s initial drawing is an illustration of herself sitting at an easel in a room lined from floor to ceiling in pink fur. She is tethered with ropes to a woman, clad in a black leather body suit, who looks like her blond doppelganger. Stigliani and her dominatrix alter-ego are inextricably linked, each individual action impacting the other by the ropes that bind them together. The leather-bound woman is the personification of creativity; she is separate from the artist, yet intimately involved in and tied to the artist’s work. The final series is based in Stigliani’s small art studio, where she is joined by a red-haired friend who assists with creating a video of the two of them in the studio filming the very same scene they enact. This reflexive gesture is compounded by the artist’s depictions of her studio, which is overflowing with the sets, puppets, drawings, and paintings from all of her previous series. An endless feedback loop, it invites viewers to observe the artist’s intimate experience of creating.
Taken together, Stigliani’s work playfully weaves together autobiography, contemporary social and cultural references, and a broad array of art historical sources, including eighteenth-century Rococo painting, Austrian portraits of royalty, fairytale illustrations, and Pop art. The imagined scenes and characters function as shadows or reflections of the artist’s life, allowing her to explore, try on, and represent different versions of the female self.
Claire Stigliani received her M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010. She has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Carnegie Mellon University. Stigliani’s work was included in MMoCA’s 2010 Wisconsin Triennial exhibition. She has also shown work at the Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, (WI), The Dean Jensen Gallery, Milwaukee, (WI), Russell/Projects, Richmond (VA), and the Jenkins Johnson Gallery (NY). She was recently awarded the prestigious Joan Mitchell Foundation award, which recognizes the important contributions being made by contemporary artists. Claire Stigliani: Half-Sick on Shadows will be the artist’s first solo museum exhibition.
Generous funding for Claire Stigliani: Half-Sick of Shadows has been provided by Karen and Craig Christianson; Promega Corporation; Dan and Natalie Erdman; The Terry Family Foundation; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.
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