As an artist, I have come to the realization that I do not always understand, enjoy, or agree with certain art pieces, and that is okay. I want others to know they’re not the only ones who have experienced feeling “behind” for not “getting” a work of art. Currently on display at the Cress Gallery at UTC is an exhibit entitled Milk Fruit that I do not find appealing in any way. Monica Cook, a visiting artist, has constructed several mixed-media pieces resembling animals and human figures that have been placed around the room, along with two videos playing on either side of the room. Her themes are the cycle of life, birth, death, and decay, I say that Cook’s figures resemble animals and humans because there are parts of them that are recognizable (a cow’s head, chicken feathers, human fingers), but their construction materials give them an uncanny, bizarre appearance. Cook’s process is meticulous, no doubt. Each piece is made up of hundreds of bits of found materials (thread, plastic fruit, hair curlers, etc.), but I did not find her end result anything other than shocking and slightly disturbing, which seems to be Cook’s goal. The shocking aspect comes from Cook’s methods of making the familiar seem strange. By taking a human figure, covering it with fur, hair, fabric, and clay, the tactile qualities of the figures are shifted and changed in a way with which I have trouble connecting. The most disturbing aspect of Cook’s show were the short movies playing on loops in either corner of the room. I don’t want to go into extreme detail on these, or else I’ll feel as though I’m putting you in the same place Cook placed me, leaving you with just dirty details that don’t really improve the artwork as a whole. However, both videos were accompanied by eerie music, and were a series of claymation shorts in which part human/part animal bodies interacted with each other and their own bodily fluids and processes. These videos left me the most uncomfortable, because as a human, I am familiar with my own body and how it works, and Cook’s version distorted and confused these functions, making them horrifying to watch.
When our mixed media class went to the exhibit, Morty explained how all ar tends to fall into three different categories; art can appear powerful, relevant, or shocking. Cook’s work certainly appears shocking, but I have to disagree with her method of artmaking, not because I find it disgusting or uncomfortable, but because at the end, I am not left with any deeper meaning. Cook’s work does not critique social values, but poorly represents them. Her art addresses the primal qualities of humans, but she does not offer an explanation, nor give any impression that it is not okay for us as a society to act upon our primal instincts alone. As an artist, I have a problem with this, and I hope that as a viewer, you do, too. The glorification of sexuality and our human flaws and lack of beauty is a dangerous area to be in in art, especially if there is no redemptive explanation offered.