Collages Exploring What Womanhood Means Today

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Carment Winant_Target Practice, 2019 (detail)
Carmen Winant, Target Practice, 2019 (detail)© Carmen Winant; Courtesy of the artist and signs and symbols, New York.

New collages by Rachel Libeskind and Carmen Winant are on show in New York, exploring a dialogue between the two artists’ feminist viewpoints and explorations of the female body

Collage is an important medium for artists Rachel Libeskind and Carmen Winant. Though it is a just one facet of their oeuvres – Winant is a writer and artist, her work often straddling the realms of photography and photo-montage, and Libeskind works in performance art, painting and sculpture – collage is employed by both to study womanhood.

A freshly opened exhibition in New York, lengthily titled sensation–sensitivity–creativity–productivity–communication, shines a light on this aspect of their work, showing how each uses collage as a tool for “social disturbance”. Created from a feminist viewpoint (“feminism is a filter through which I live my life,” Winant told Sophie Bew in AnOther Magazine A/W18), their art stems from an interest in the female experience – both individual and universal, historic and contemporary.

Like previous work by Winant, her three new collages centre on found imagery depicting women engaging in a particular activity. Last year saw the Ohio-based artist exhibit Lesbian Lands, a piece that focused on the first female-owned commune in the US, created in 1976 by the Oregon Women’s Land Trust; Looking Forward to Being Attacked brought together images of women practicing self-defence; and 2018’s My Birth, which has become one of Winant’s most recognised works, saw her paste over 2,000 photographs of women in childbirth on two walls of New York’s MoMA. For sensation–sensitivity–creativity–productivity–communication, Winant’s interest is in images of healing processes – specifically therapeutic treatments, like dance therapy, contact therapy, and scream therapy. Overlaid with her own illustrations and handwritten text, the resulting images question if and how we can view the notion of healing and restoring. The text reads as lyrical, descriptive and carefully instructive at once: “The hands are gentle and firm around the cheeks... Allow 30 seconds between touches. In the second touch, both hands enclose the back of the left thigh,” goes a small section.

Libeskind, who was born in Milan, raised in Berlin and is now based in New York, has looked to the natural world, and specifically rocks, to form her new works. Among new collages, three small rock-like sculptures, painted in kaleidoscopic colours, are also on show. The found imagery in her collages are cards showing sections of anonymous faces that were used as pieces of a board game from the 1950s, the aim of which was to create an entire face from these individual features.

The work plays with proportion: lining up mouths and noses underneath giant pairs of eyes, and layering these facial features over bright, rock-shaped backgrounds. A dialogue between natural shapes and contrived faces, Libeskind’s working process also offered a contrast, as she created the collages on super-light paper itself reinforced with fabric hardener. In her wider practice, Libeskind’s work moves fluidly between techniques and media. “There is something to be said for the female ability to push boundaries in what media is and what mediums are,” she has previously said. “Historically, paintings are a very male thing. I think in some ways, either consciously or unconsciously, I’m responding to that.”

The works by Libeskind and Winant featured in sensation–sensitivity–creativity–productivity–communication offer thoughts on identity, and how bodies are literally, figuratively, and willingly touched, torn and spliced. They make for poignant viewing in light of recent restrictions placed on women and their reproductive rights in the artists’ country; work like this with a feminist agenda feels particularly valuable. “I see so much progressive work, activist work and intellectual work existing across all platforms and I think it’s really amazing,” Winant said in AnOther Magazine A/W18. “I guess I do wonder about the trendiness of feminism... I feel as though it always needs to be a radical force. I feel optimistic about it but I also feel really troubled.”

sensation–sensitivity–creativity–productivity–communication is at Signs and Symbols, New York, until July 14, 2019.