Anyone who dismisses the material of glass as too beautiful or perfect to communicate signifcant content or emotion hasn't encountered Doreen Garner's raw mixed media work, which cultivates strong reactions ranging from from desire to disgust. Walk into an exhibit of this 2014 graduate of RISD's MFA program and you know this is sophisticated work that plows deep psychological territory, confronting viewers with sometimes-disturbing works that take on the human body, sexuality, race, gore, and objectification. By adding unexpected materials such as latex or petroleum jelly as well as organic substances such as human hair, this Philadelphia native cannily pursues her agenda of peeling away layers of distance, digging down into a primordial strata of experience and consciousness. There's no shortage of concept either, with her recent work confronting the assault on black bodies in the name of medical research. The work's boldness is no surprise to those who saw the artist's 2014 "Observatory" exhibition in which she exhibited herself as a specimen unclothed in a glass box covered in glitter and stuffed condoms. There's nobody in glass taking on these issues in this manner, or with this level of risk-taking. GLASS recently interviewed Garner via email about where her work is going and where it can be seen.
GLASS: What are you working on currently?
Doreen Garner: In May, I took one of my glass tumor forms and coated it with Smooth On’s Ecoflex 10 in attempts to make some sort of bitch-ass mold. When I bisected the mold it was very visceral, floppy, soft, and sticky. I turned it inside out to reveal the skin-like texture from the glass/fiberglass needles. I’ve been wanting to work with flesh for so long but the complication of smell, rotting, maggots, etc. was too much of a deterrent. This was a solution. I started stuffing the silicone form, realizing that my glass objects were able to produce new life through another material. Although expensive, this new medium increases the scale and interactivity of my sculptures.
I’ve spent the last few months doing research on American medical history and experimentation on African American bodies. April's Revolution: A Modern Perspective of American Medical Care of Civil War Soldiers and African Slaves by Paulette Snoby, Medical Apartheid : The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A.Washington and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot have been great contributors for new investigations I’m taking in glass, latex, and silicone. I’ve been reading the accounts of Dr. J. Marion Sims, praised pervert and father of American Gynecology. He tortured slave women using them as gynecological test dummies and surgical spectacles. As his statue stands in Central Park, I’m looking into taking silicone casts of his body and reenact the torturous unanesthetized procedures he performed on Black women. In glass, I am continuing to create my tumor forms, but now combining them, increasing in scale and visceral impact.
GLASS: What have you seen or been thinking about that inspires your work?
Garner: Videodrome, baby drool, piles of trash bags, scar tissue, butcher shops, deformed trees, the garment district, white fragility, white privilege, modified stripper bodies, plastic surgery, scabs, removed scabs, candies, desserts, car paint, baby skin, elderly skin, death, bondage, suspension, the brain of a male tween, medical tools, Paul Thek, digestion, holiday feasts, the '90s, hair stores, cavities, teeth, assholes, extensive body hair, ear wax, shaving, severe acne, shape ups, skinned fruit, decomposition, body mod culture, bubblegum, lungs, intestines, residue, bug guts, seeds, To Pimp a Butterfly, tumors, growths, odors, body odor, pap smears, bread rising, veins, feces, deodorized products, inflatables, gallstones, marshmallows in a microwave, blood, bile, bling, diamonds, crystals, pearls, mirrors, melanin, specimens, melting temperatures, humidity, condensation, reality tv, exposure, slug slime, Flying Lotus, preservatives, Django Unchained, sweat, instability, blubber, fat transfer, wigs, lacefronts, extensions, prosthetics, cosmetics, foundation, fake lashes, lipstick, lip gloss, lacquer, polyurethane, epoxy, cancer, popcorn.
GLASS: Where can your work be seen?
Garner: Right now my newest work NEO (plasm) can be seen in Bergen Norway at S12 in the "Young and Loving" exhibition. You can listen to my radio show #TRASHDAY at clocktower.org that airs every second Sunday from 3-5pm cohosted by artist Kenya Robinson and myself http://clocktower.org/series/trashday. Check my website for updates at www.doreengarner.com.