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Relating to an Other: Nadine Beauharnois' 'Invasion II'

Invasion II, 2016, Papier mâché, wire, acrylic paint, 10 x 8 x 3 inches


On view at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery through March, a show of four artists, entitled "Painters Sculpting/Sculptors Painting," includes a papier mache sculpture by an artist named Nadine Beauharnois that particularly captured my attention: "Invasion II".

Born in 1986 in Schenectady, NY, Nadine Beauharnois graduated with her M.F.A. from PAFA in 2015, and now lives and works in Philadelphia. Her arrangement of sculptures, plus one painting, in the new show are painted mostly in bright colors, and are somewhat simplistic though not easy to identify as objects; they have humorous names like "Blerp" and "Circus Escapee."

"Invasion II" is a sculpture with a name that suggests alien arrivals, but looks more like an infestation. A tall, bright-blue shape that is organic-looking despite its color, and makes me think of a moldy macaroni noodle that is standing (slumping) on end, is dotted with worm-like shapes painted orange. At the top, the noodle seems to be brimming over with a similarly orange-painted substance that looks as though it's going to blow. Three more toxic orange "worms" inch their way toward (or away from?) the volcanic blue-and-orange tower.

It seems appropriate that this and other sculptures by Beauharnois are in a show about painters sculpting, and sculptors painting. At its core, Beauharnois' sculpting practice seems to be about otherness: confronting an other, just like a painter might first confront the world of sculpture.

There is a dynamic quality to "Invasion II," just like there is in her other sculptures in this exhibit. Not just a wavering blue tower (which also looks like a sort of worm), but a population of worm-like residents on and around the tower. Not just a group of worms on the move, but a destination for them to go to. At once, movement and feeling become interrelated when you look at this piece.

For myself, looking at and writing about Beauharnois' work makes me think of Jane Rendell's comments about "relating to an other" in her book "Site Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism." Knowing that Beauharnois, a woman artist who is the same age as me, is creating dynamic sculptures that seem to capture a quirky sense of humor, I think about what these sculptures mean to her, her subjectivity while working, and also her anticipation of her audience. Is the enjoyment that the sculptures produce in me, the same enjoyment that she had while making them?

"The psychic processes of introjection and projection, as well as identification, provide a rich source of conceptual tools for exploring the complex relationships made between subjects and others, and between people, objects and spaces. [Jessica] Benjamin argues that once we start to think in terms of relationships between subjects, or subjectivity, we have no choice but to consider these intraphysic mechanisms of relation, most importantly identifications..." [7]

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Thinking about criticism and its relationship to otherness in the art world, and thinking about psychoanalysis, I realize that I cannot separate this art from its maker. And I cannot separate the experience I am having from the experience of the artist. The way in which I identify each of Beauharnois' objects, all of which may be identified as literal things or interpreted abstractly, speaks to my experience--my internal and external processes--relative to the experience of the artist herself.

It is worthwhile to consider Jane Rendell's ideas about "relating to an other" when viewing this show, "Painters Sculpting/Sculptors Painting."

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