April 19, 2021

Art in the Absence of Touch: ‘The Femme Abstract’

With over 40 local female artists, the pop-up exhibition is both a denouement and a fresh start after a year of restricted art experiences

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“The Femme Abstract” opened in East Austin just hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve, taking over an empty office with such aplomb that cubicles suddenly seem more desirable. Featuring over 40 local female artists, the pop-up exhibition is both a denouement and a fresh start after a year of restricted art experiences.

Curator Moya McIntyre has transformed a 20,000-square-foot office space on Springdale Road into a gallery for all of January. (The developer landlord, for whom McIntyre works, is actively showing the space to prospective tenants in the meantime.)

After organizing a similar event back in 2018, McIntyre was eager to put something together before 2020 ended. The art community, still mostly hiding in a coronavirus-proof bunker, had been craving in-person connection all year.

The city’s Cultural Arts Division, which supplies McIntyre’s core funding as an artist and curator, suggested she try for an online show. But Moya wasn’t interested in going virtual.

“People need to see art, not on a computer, but in the same space,” she says. “Even if they’re standing 10 feet away.”



“The Femme Abstract” came together quickly, in about a month’s time. McIntyre has worked with many of the show’s artists in the past, and all but one are from Austin (Stephanie Gonzalez is based in Houston). Unlike 2018’s “The Femme Abstract,” which took place in a raw warehouse, this current iteration features smaller works and installations.

It’s nice to have a finished-off space, McIntyre says. There’s professional lighting, a working thermostat. Even a restroom. The previous occupants — a catering company — had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations. They left after a year.

“These little office cubicles and oddly placed pony walls turned into a Tetris game of making everything fit and look like a gallery.”

Femme Abstract
An office space used for the pop-up exhibition “The Femme Abstract” Photo by Barbara Purcell

The offices are indeed the best part: each separate room has been transformed into a micro-gallery with some little curatorial theme. Colors in particular set the mood, though in the case of Emma Chou her sound piece usurps the cramped space.

The paintings should stay up long after the show comes down. Elizabeth Decker’s large-scale visages as well as the abstract ecosystems found in Mars Woodhill’s work, cancel and complement corporate culture all at once. The same could be said for Laurie Frick’s data-driven glass strips on the second floor. Or April Garcia’s bright soft sculptures dotting the pony walls. Perhaps whoever moves in will take it all.

As one would expect with a multi-artist show, the diversity of styles and backgrounds in “The Femme Abstract” runs the gamut. Rakhee Jain’s “I Am My Mother’s Daughter,” is a dreamlike narrative of saris sewn together and suspended in space. Elizabeth Chapin’s “Blue Lace Marco” is an attitude adorned by a neon halo. Marianne Levy’s ceramic sculpture “Blood Star” is the show’s perfunctory vulva.

"Balky, Unruly, Tenacious, Anti + Obstinate” Dawn Okoro
Installation view of “Balky, Unruly, Tenacious, Anti + Obstinate” by Dawn Okoro. Photo by Barbara Purcell

But there are spiky things, too. Andrea de Leon’s works are both shiny and sharp and Darcie Book’s svelte pyramid could pop a balloon. Dawn Okoro’s “Balky, Unruly, Tenacious, Anti, + Obstinate” celebrates the traits of difficult women, while Alejandra Almuelle’s stoneware needles spread across the wall like unwanted hair. A nail holds each follicle in place.

 

Hollis Hammonds + Sasha West
Installation view of “A Dark Wood Grew Inside Me,” by Hollis Hammonds and Sasha West. Photo by Barbara Purcell

Hollis Hammonds, in collaboration with poet Sasha West, turns black takeout containers and stylistically charred objects into a city of ruins. It brings to mind one of the first catastrophes of 2020, the Australian bushfires. Burnt koalas are but a distant memory.

 

Armature Sculpture by Magdalena Jarkowiec and Laurie Frick’s “Time - minus work, commute, school, and sleep” in Background
Armature sculpture by Magdalena Jarkowiec and Laurie Frick’s “Time – minus work, commute, school, and sleep” in background. Photo by Barbara Purcell

Magdalena Jarkowiec’s dysmorphic sculptures blend her dance background with her love of sewing (her grandmother was a seamstress). A deformed leg and a bodily armature piece are positioned on the floor like balletic carrion.

“The Femme Abstract” has got a lot of light, and it’s got a lot of dark. Ropes and chains balance out the delicate with the fetishistic. Amy Scofield has encased two stiletto shoes, one of which is a crackled glass slipper. Each has been placed under a bell jar, a mixing of metaphors that makes you wonder who had it worse: Sylvia Plath or Cinderella? Suzanne Wyss’ witch’s claw of wool and wire reaches out from some nearby corner: “in the absence of touch” is a clear nod to our new normal.

Susan Wyss
Susan Wyss’s “in the absence of touch” on view in “The Femme Abstract.” Photo by Barbara Purcell

According to McIntyre, the show is meant to be a snapshot of the Austin female artists’ community in the here and now. And it is bursting with pent-up energy.

“I chose a lot more work than is being shown, but I warned all the artists that I might not show everything,” says McIntyre. “Fortunately I have a large storage closet downstairs.”

“The Femme Abstract” is open 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays (and by appointment) through Jan. 31. 979 Springdale Road, Suite 123. Click here for more info.  

“Mother” Elizabeth Chapin
“Mother” by Elizabeth Chapin on view in “The Femme Abstract.” Photo by Barbara Purcell


Barbara Purcell
Barbara Purcell
Barbara Purcell is an arts and culture writer based in Austin. She is the author of Black Ice: Poems (Fly by Night Press, 2006). In addition to Sightlines, her work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Canadian Art, Glasstire, and Tribes Magazine. She is a graduate of Skidmore College.

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