Artist statement from "bears; truths:..."
I am a collector. I collect used objects that I find interesting, since they contain history and a sublime feeling. Inspired by these objects, I create a dialogue and structures of ideas around them. They are a springboard for my work.
This is how my world of the teddy bear began. For the past couple of years, I have been collecting used and donated teddy bears. Once in the possession of Reykjavík’s children, these previously owned teddy bears fulfilled their fundamental natural objective of companionship. Their soft and cuddly cuteness served an important purpose in children’s lives. They were perhaps given as gifts to snuggle with, held close for security, handed down, or buried and ignored in a chest of toys. These consoling bears were brought to bed and slept with, dragged around, dressed, and cried to. They were included in fantasy play, nurtured and talked to. Sadly, like most things, they eventually lost their usefulness and were abandoned and discarded. But now, perhaps, they carry an energy from their previous owners. If these bears could talk, would they reveal knowledge of the children they belonged to?
Using found, recycled objects and materials, this installation adopts these used and bruised teddy-bear castoffs. This place – bears; truths… – is a place where all is not what it seems. It exhibits reflections of human nature and the natural world. This is the place where the teddy bears reside in many other forms and permutations. A sanctuary of sorts, it portrays a journey through the different worlds of the bears. It is a metaphor for us as humans, with our past experiences, good and bad. Bears are tied up, bound, and deformed; they take on other incarnations and are often unrecognizable. Upon entering the installation, we are simultaneously confronted with both darkness and light, which creates a spark in our minds. Perhaps the familiar can be transformed into a deeper subreality and a perspective that might allow for an examination of the self. It is a sojourn rather than a destination, where decisions must be made while traversing this universe. I share a short escape from reality into a new experience, which embodies the outer, inner, upper, lower fantasy worlds of teddy bears.
An Obsessive Narrative of Forgotten Souls
Curator, Yean Fee Quay text from "bears; truths.... " exhibition
Trips to garbage bins were one of Kathy Clark’s routines in the United States when she was recycling and transforming discarded objects into her art. She brought the practice with her to Iceland. Many years ago, when she came upon some boxes that were filled to the brim with stuffed toys, she salvaged the teddy bears. Her act was precipitated by an instinct, which has been sharpened by nearly three decades of disciplined practice as an artist.
This exhibition – bears; truths… – is Clark’s first solo exhibition in an official Reykjavík establishment. Although she has lived in Reykjavík for ten years, she has remained relatively unknown to the close-knit art community until recently, when she began reaching out to both local and visiting artists and inviting them to show in her window galleries. A first visit to her studio will overwhelm those who aren’t expecting to find the modest-size space cluttered with all sorts of objects and artworks. No space is spared except for a narrow corridor that the petite artist and her dog can pass through. However, Clark is a systematic collector and fanatical about organizing her collection. A closer look around her studio reveals the tell-tale signs of innumerable objects painstakingly sorted into colors, sizes, materials, and purposes.
Kathy Clark, a Korean American born in 1957, grew up in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. After finishing high school, she was adamant about pursuing her college education far from her hometown. Removing herself from the places she was familiar with as a child and adolescent was necessary for Clark in redefining her identity. After finishing her undergraduate studies at San Diego State University in 1982, she moved to San Francisco, where she received her master’s degree from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1985.
SFAI in the late 70s and early 80s was a breeding ground for punk music, alternative performance acts, poetry readings, and experimental art forms of all kinds. It was a place where students – including the performance artist Karen Finley – found underground outlets to experience and participate in alternative practices. It was common to find artists reciting their own writings; performing actions of various kinds; taking ideas or images from other artists and appropriating them into artworks of their own; applying Duchampian techniques by incorporating found or ready-made objects into their paintings, sculptures and installations – all to demonstrate or retaliate against the inevitable commodification of their works in a commercial realm. Simultaneously, painters were returning to large figurative and expressionistic paintings in an attempt to distinguish their work from conceptual and minimal art. In short, the period saw a progressive number of artists exploring themselves by questioning originality and authorship, and by seizing all approaches available to them at that time, in order to materialize their ideas in forms that distanced their work from preceding art movements and ideas.
At SFAI, Clark progressed into constructing motifs via ready-mades, found objects, and images in her large-scale installations. Although the manner is predominantly conceptual when she superimposes the objects or images onto her work, her execution style is akin to Pop, mixed with an expressionist vigor. This tendency can be attributed to her preoccupation with materials and techniques, as much as being mindful about her subject matter. Clark has worked as an assistant to other artists and as a prop maker for displays in retail stores, and she is especially thankful to her mother for teaching her upholstery – one of many useful skills she has picked up outside of her art school training. Her choice of materials often carries deeper personal notions. She is especially drawn to materials that she can manipulate to achieve tactile finishes. The introduction or addition of foreign materials to ready-mades has been practiced by Surrealist artists in the early twentieth century – Merét Oppenheim’s fur-covered teacup comes to mind – even though it is a contradicting example to Clark’s wax-soaked stuffed teddy bears.
Beeswax is among Clark’s favorite materials, and she uses it extensively. In bears; truths… Clark uses wax on many of the stuffed bears to achieve a number of different effects. She wraps some of the bears in cheesecloth and dips them in wax to make cocoon-like forms; she slices other bears up and empties out their stuffing before pouring hot wax over the limp pelts; and still others she cuts into pieces and then sews back together afterward – although never in their original forms, and even sometimes together with other bears or bear parts. The distorted creatures look even more peculiar when she manipulates thick textural wax onto their fur.
The leitmotifs of abjection and memories are prominent in Clark’s earlier work, and are addressed again in bears; truths…. Clark stages each component in an arrangement that dictates an odyssey, repeats symbolically charged icons, and conceives of elaborated titles for particular pieces. Clark’s installation radiates a psychological perversion that she has single-mindedly plotted using a system of her own. The anarchic disarray of stuffed toy bears – which are, either singularly or together, waxed, tied up, sewn, glued, emptied out, mangled – are schemes to orchestrate a sense of dejection, abandonment, and neglect.
Similarly, she deploys expressive words as a strategy to convey a longing and despair that is whispered among the castoff teddy bears. As systematically as Clark collects objects, she reads, researches, and writes tirelessly about the subject matter she is working with. She exhausts every aspect of her motifs, either through her own writing or by jotting down quotes that capture the essence of her subjects. Her personal writing resonates with memories and emotions from her experiences. Using fragments of sentences, she composes ornate texts that are embroidered on the underside of synthetic bear-shaped pelts –
“My human child…never questioned life and was not resistant to influences.”
”My human child…suffered with complete composure.”
”My human child…had no emotional investments and went from one relationship to the next.”
– like murmuring protests. With hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears – hanging, lying, or towering over the viewers – the installation is an altered reality. Or a theater where viewers are compelled to partake in the narrative structure for the forgotten souls.
Yean Fee Quay
Curator and Exhibition Director, Reykjavík Art Museum