Providence-based multidisciplinary performance artist Jennifer Avery has a fascination with dolls. This is clear in her installation, “Beast Boutique,” which makes its USA debut this week in Miami as a part of the inaugural Satellite exhibition, made up of several different shows in venues like a pharmacy and a bandshell. The Ocean Terrace Hotel is curated by Tiger Strikes Asteroid as an artist-driven intervention space, revering the DIY and alternative. Inside a vacant beachfront hotel—destined to be torn down—different artist collectives and galleries from all over the country (plus Vienna) were each allotted a room to take over during Miami Art Week.
Avery ripped out the carpet, painted the walls and floors, and threw away tons of dead cockroaches. Her room has been filled with her collection of freakish objects of affection—all ready to be touched, worn, danced with. There are multiple versions of Avery present in the room: a molded cast of her body, dubbed “The Seamstress”; large tapestries depicting previous renditions of “Beast Boutique”; screen printed illustrations of herself, teeth bared; and the dressed up performer that welcomes visitors. She dons a wig and silk hood, paints her face to resemble an animal, and starts tending to her dolls, sewing new ones as she growls. 19th century French singer Fréhel softly croons in the background.
“Beast Boutique” was developed during Avery’s artist residency with the Hermès Foundation last year, where she became the first American artist to participate. In France, she worked with seamstresses, printed her drawings onto their fabric and repurposed scraps that Hermès was throwing away to create “an incredible amount of dolls, or performance objects,” Avery tells CH. Some are Frankenstein in nature; many of them, curiously, are missing arms.
“This has everything to do with the French phrase, ‘pas de bras, pas de chocolat’ [no arms, no chocolate], explorations of the nature of loving something ‘to death,’ mediations on agency, visions of the doll as a genderless creature and its doppelgänger resemblance with a phallus, and my role as the queen of all these dolls—the one true seamstress, the only one of my pack that can reproduce,” continues Avery. “Painting or choosing not to paint or embroider or mold faces on my dolls is an exploration in both traditional painting and mask making to the ‘simple’ masks of make up and the painful masks of bodily response—such as bruising and aging. As usual, my interests in emotion, ornamentation, grotesqueries and femininity are magnificent.”
“I was fixated on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, or one of first versions from France know as The Grandmother’s Tale,” says Avery on the Beast Boutique. “There is no hunter to save the day in the earliest versions of the story. The wolf is defeated by the combined cunning of Little Red and her grandmother. Sometimes there is not even a wolf, but a female ogre or a ‘tiger aunt.'”
Embodying all of these different, splintered characters, Avery says, “My work is a very personal response to the problematic erotics of a female aesthetic, and thus both a celebration and condemnation of socially constructed performances of gender and femininity.”
“All of these dolls were created to live in the Beast Boutique. I often describe my work as a beautiful nightmare, as an exploration of personal mythology, as a fairytale filled with the sublime and sexuality. Absurdities, contradictions, opposites amuse and frighten me. Whimsical and macabre, glamorous and grotesque, strong and vulnerable, natural and artificial, erotic and innocent: I need the uncanny realm of attraction and repulsion. I also need to laugh and play,” she says. When you need a break from looking at carefully placed artwork on white walls this week, come put on the handmade leopard mask, the beard made of Barbie hair and let your suppressed inner identities run loose for a while.
Find Avery (represented by Providence-based Yellow Peril Gallery) in room 114 at the Ocean Terrace Hotel (7410 Ocean Terrace, Miami Beach), where she and others will be performing as patchwork proprietresses throughout the week from 12-9PM, until 6 December 2015. Admission to Satellite venues is free.
Image in forest courtesy of Jennifer Avery, all other images by Nara Shin