Hertopia: An Illustrated History of the New World
April 12, 2008 —
May 17, 2008
Honor Fraser is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by Cathy Akers.
Cathy Akers is known for work that explores the relationship between people and nature. In Hertopia: An Illustrated History of the New World, she focuses on female nature in particular in three meticulously crafted dioramas: Peep Show, The New World, and Evolution. These self-contained worlds present plasticine figures in woodland settings which speculate on how women might behave, and how a female society might develop, in the absence of men and the presence of wild animals, and freed of the rules and taboos of civilization. These utopic scenes challenge 20th century ideas of nature as being benevolent and of women as gentle and passive creatures, as well as early feminist notions of a world without men being a peaceful one. Instead, women are depicted as carnal, power hungry, and predatory, and are stripped of any sense of modesty, self-consciousness or propriety. The plasticine figures fight, kill, piss and fornicate without compunction, and are so "at one with nature" that they repeatedly transgress the boundary between the human and animal worlds: a woman suckles a baby bear, while others engage in sexual acts with coyotes.
The themes of the works tie in with Akers' interest in fairy tales, as interpreted by authors such as Marina Warner in From the Beast to the Blonde and Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber, for their explorations of the relationship between unconscious desires and the taboos and constraints of civilization, and for their blurred boundaries between the human and animal worlds. The forest settings of the dioramas relate to those of fairy tales and myths, as well as of more contemporary works such as The Lord of the Flies, representing the wild and frightening aspect of nature while reversing the horror movie trope of the solitary woman being pursued in the woods.
Hertopia: An Illustrated History of the New World also expands on Akers' earlier explorations of viewing and voyeurism. Each diorama carefully controls the ways in which the scenes are experienced: Peep Show allows the viewer only glimpses of the woodland scenes through monocular lenses with a narrow depth of field. The New World reveals more, while making the viewer more aware of other viewers. Finally, in Evolution – both the most violent and playful of the three – the viewer is able to enter into the imaginary world for a far more direct experience.
Cathy Akers holds an MFA in Photography and Media from CalArts and a BFA from Tufts University, where she focused on photography. Her work has been exhibited widely through the US, as well as in the Czech Republic, Israel and England.
For further information please contact the gallery.