Revulsion and fascination are at war in the art of Lauren Frances Moore Evans, on view at Hillyer Art Space. As the artist puts it, “I want my work to be kind of pretty, but still a little bit yucky.”
That succinct if bipolar summation deftly straddles the strange, sweet spot where much of Moore Evans’s sculpture lies. Made from such materials as hog intestines, animal hair, fake fingernails and wadded-up chewing gum, the work in “Wholeism: Parts and Holes” resembles, at times, teratomas — human tumors that sometimes contain hair, teeth, bones and eyeballs. It’s repellent stuff, to be sure, but also oddly — perhaps morbidly — compelling.
One work, “Dingle Dangle,” looks like something out of a serial killer’s abattoir. Hanging from a nail, two flesh-colored appendages of unknown — but strongly phallic — origin terminate, incongruously, in a fringe of dainty eyelashes. Another piece, “Scrunch,” looks like an amputated (and possibly diseased) human toe, packed with surgical dressing.
There’s a strongly sexual subtext here, with forms that call to mind nipples, belly buttons and body cavities. A series of surreal collages, made from fragments of magazine photos, features skin that has been cut into anatomical shapes that don’t exist in nature but are still just labial or globular enough to evoke giggles.
But Moore Evans isn’t interested in merely titillating (or disgusting). Her transfiguration of the body’s orifices and outcroppings serves a deeper purpose, she says, whose meaning derives not from its literal evocation of the flesh but from its metaphorical potential.
Her show is about filling holes, she acknowledges, just not the kind you think.
In her artist’s statement, Moore Evans drops a big word: ontology, the study of the nature of being. As she describes it, the theme of “Wholeism” is the human quest for oneness, the desire to fill what’s empty. In art, as in psychology, that desire is sometimes expressed as the physical union of the male and the female, the yin energy with the yang.
It’s an effective metaphor.
Moore Evans argues that this yearning is actually pre-sexual.
At its root, then, her show is about two things. According to Moore Evans, it’s about a child’s impulse to stick a finger in her mouth — or a jelly bean up her nose — as she discovers the uncharted landscape of the body, testing the boundary between where “I” ends and everything else begins.
But, the artist says, the show also is about what some have called the God-shaped hole, a void in the soul that wants filling, not with meat but with meaning.
There’s a certain poetry to Lauren Frances Moore Evans’s wall labels. It’s not so much in her works’ titles, which run to the silly — “Deedle Doo Da,” “Inny Pouty” — but in the deadpan itemization of her unorthodox materials. The anemone-like “Bound to Being,” for instance, is made from “hog intestines, fiberglass insulation, false eyelashes and rubber band.” Other works feature hair extensions, wigs and fake fingernails, all bought from a beauty supply shop; a casting made from plaster poured into the artist’s own belly button; and animal hair, a giant bag of which Moore Evans says was mysteriously waiting for her when she moved into a new studio.
The intestines, which Moore Evans orders from a supplier that caters to sausage manufacturers, make an uncanny substitute for human skin. Despite her work’s evocation of medical specimens, the artist says she has no formal training in anatomy, just a curiosity sparked by a visit to Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, an institution famous for its collection of medical oddities and freakishly deformed body parts.
— Michael O’Sullivan