Podmore’s fascinating Whorl at WCMA

This Sunday was the official opening of Assistant Professor of Art Amy Podmore’s exhibition Whorl, organized by Ian Berry, an assistant curator at the Williams College Museum of Art. As member of the studio art department, Amy Podmore teaches sculpture in a variety of mediums, from cardboard to metal, including a figure modeling class during winter study.

In her own work, on exhibit until January 23, 2000, Professor Podmore seems interested in exploring notions of ambivalence. Her pieces attract and repel, and are comical yet perturbing. They invite us to touch and connect with the work, while containing certain disturbing elements. In Armor, a bear with human legs and arms sits in a tree branch at just about eye level. It is curled over itself, hands covering the belly, and appears strangely defenseless. It has no eyes, no facial expression with which to communicate, yet its whole posture suggests vulnerability. Like a child, we wish to comfort it, to hold the plush fur of this stuffed animal.

Similarly, in Placebo, animals hang from the ceiling, two feathers in their hands. Walking under the figures, we could reach out and touch them: they look like stuffed animals and the temptation is almost irresistible. Yet, they are plaster casts, mainly white, with only a few tufts of fur visible. They float and seem so light, yet appear drained at the same time. Figure with Scissors, another piece in the exhibition, is a plaster cast of a girl’s body with a large head whose edges don’t meld into the body, but rather sit on top of it, like a mask. She too curls into herself, her eyes semi-closed, a pair of enormous bright red and metal scissors reaching across her body. Podmore’s works combine found objects with fabricated elements, a physical manifestation of their psychological duality.

Particularly unsettling is the feeling within Podmore’s larger pieces of being partially in a child’s world. Except for one piece, Podmore’s human figures have children’s bodies, or contain elements, such as stuffed animals, that mostly function in a child’s environment. We are asked to stare at these, and because they are both vulnerable and aggressively pushing us out of their world, we remain at a loss about what to do. We are distanced from what we are taught to embrace.

According to Podmore, “these works deal with extreme and earnest ‘desire,’ while self-consciously acknowledging their own absurdity.” A child lost in a bear, stuffed animals suffocated by plaster, a mechanical woman who cleans incessantly as she moves from a prone to a standing position, but who has no legs. There is an implied allusion here that is difficult to grasp, perhaps because it creates such ambivalence. The whorl in Amy Podmore’s exhibition begins at the first step: how to address the pieces.

All these elements make for a fascinating exhibition that constantly pull us in two directions. I find myself constantly in the 1935 gallery, trying to make Professor Podmore’s work fit into a more comfortable space. Unlike conventional sculpture, Podmore’s pieces hover: over our heads, in a tree, hanging on the wall. They pull at us, and in some ways, haunt us.

Also part of the exhibition are some intricate hair drawings. Podmore has been working with hair drawings for a while now, having shown some at previous faculty exhibitions at the WCMA.

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