Savage Riot: BFA Thesis Show is ‘Stuffed’ With Surprises
By Charly Himmel
Last Tuesday’s opening reception for Kelly Savage’s “Stuffed” marked week two of BFA thesis show season.
The solo exhibitions, which run weekly throughout the spring semester, are the final thesis projects for fine art undergrad students in their capstone semester with professor Adam Thompson. The shows provide students with a unique opportunity—not only in creating their own body of work to be exhibited, but also a chance to experience curating firsthand.
“I think it is really good that a solo show is provided,” said Savage. “I know people who went to art school and paid crazy amounts of money that didn’t have a solo exhibition.”
“Stuffed,” which offered a nice spread of snack, was especially well attended. Ambient lighting provided a warmer atmosphere than most starkly lit art shows, complimenting Savage’s mostly-white paper compositions. “Stuffed” included six large reduction pieces carved from solid sheets of paper, then mounted on wood. This depth of space between the white compositions and white walls created a sense of movement effectively similar to shadows thrown by candlelight. On the floor beneath each piece, piles of paper cutouts remind viewers of the artist’s process.
“I wanted a little bit of violence. I wanted people to remember this was cut out—this was sharply cut out,” said Savage. “It also looks pretty. It’s funny, but also it’s cut out…just a reminder that the stuffing fell out.”
Citing feminist motifs as the focal point of her work, it’s problematic to say Savage was influenced by feminist art of the ‘70’s. Perhaps more accurately, Savage was motivated to re-appropriate an art movement she refers to as ‘feminist essentialism.’
“In particular, there was Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro utilizing decorative arts to take back this type of work that was associated with women by giving it room in the art world for appreciation,” said Savage.
“But I also think at the time of that particular work, it was not only pigeonholing women, but it was also really kind of just for upper-middle class white women. I got to respect it, but I have some things to say about it. I feel like I’m looking through the lens I grew up with, which was riot grrrl early ‘90s feminism, which is more about race, socioeconomic status, class, religion, sexual orientation.”
But though Savage’s paper compositions possess a beautiful delicacy, there is a humorous irony consistent within her work.
“I am paying tribute but I’m also trying to show how having that essentialism, that focus that women are universal, they’re all the same really stuffs, puts a gag in the issues,” said Savage. “That’s why the imagery looks pretty, but it’s actually capturing some ugly sides.”
At first glance, cutout twin silhouettes of young girls appear side by side. Upon closer inspection, one is holding a broom, the other, a shotgun. In the large folded sculpture at the South end of the gallery, what appears to be a giant origami flower is in fact the tail end of a bunny rabbit, replete with flowery turds falling onto the floor. Another piece features a girl leaning over to tell a secret, but is in fact vomiting a string of folded paper flower gradations into a coil in the center of the room. This piece provides the sole color present in “Stuffing,” the pinks and reds reminiscent of a giant breast. This is yet another nod to the “femmage” circles of Miriam Schapiro.
“I wanted the contrast of a girl throwing up, but in a dainty, pretty way,” said Savage. “That’s why I titled [the show] Stuffing, too. The pouring out, it just makes me sick sometimes when I think about the dainty flower craft circle stuff, but I love it too. It’s hard not to like it, but at the same time it’s so saccharine and sweet.”
Reinterpreting traditional craft and community, Savage looked to her friends and family to help construct the numerous origami flowers in her exhibition.
“Judy Chicago had a lot of people work on the Dinner Party, but they didn’t get credit,” Savage said. “So I thought I’d have a craft circle and give everybody credit for doing it. And it wouldn’t be just women, because that was something I felt like was really exclusive.”
Originally, Savage planned to create an all-white paper installation of large-scale folded and bent paper sculptures. In doing so, she intended to pull away from her previous motifs – white paper symbolized the whitewashing of feminist ideals.
“The reason I wanted to do an all-white paper installation was it was like wiping the slate clean,” said Savage. “But when I was doing that I just realized how uninterested I was. I just wanted to be honest with myself and do something sincere – sincere to me. Even though I have a rabbit shitting on the floor.”
After her final semester, Savage looks forward to taking a break from her schooling to volunteer with community arts programs. Eventually, she would like to pursue a career in social work via the arts.
“I grew up poor. I didn’t have access to the arts. Not really much access at all, except through movements like the riot grrrl movement,” said Savage. “I think the art world is really missing out big time on a lot of people that are below income. I think they bring a lot to the table but they just don’t have access. There’s no way to get your foot in the door unless you bust your ass. I think working in community arts helps keep those avenues open.”
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