Imagine experiencing a parallel reality of our world that serves as an antidote to our pervasive media culture, which undermines women’s sense of self-image and confidence through its artificial constructs of beauty. With social media becoming the de rigueur method of keeping connected with “friends,” women being marketed, constructed myths of what it means to be “beautiful” and our global culture turning to digital networks to shape its identity, we’re all silently experiencing a colossal churning of social, economic, political and cultural forces that are overwhelming our individual lives. An alternative perspective on this reality is sorely needed to reconnect us back to ourselves and to give people, especially women, a new perspective on what it means to be truly themselves without stereotype and prejudice.
Rachel Hovnanian, a powerfully versatile multimedia artist, with whom we have had the great pleasure of working over the past decade, is that rare visual poet of our era, who uses her visual oeuvre to articulate our world into bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Hovnanian is a sculptor, painter, narrator, photographer and filmmaker, who invites us into a visual dialogue with her creations and reconnects us back to ourselves.
Hovnanian explores the artificial constructs of beauty played out in our consumer culture and often brings out this theme in her works. Her powerful exhibit Too Good to Be True, which just opened in Hong Kong, shows beauty queens photographed on archival paper. Some of these images, clutching knives and stabbing the competition (“Beauty Queen Backstabbers”), are particularly cinematic. A photograph of a beauty queen whose body appears larger in the mirror explores themes of self-image. In another medium is a unique lightbox that we collaborated in production with the artist. Her specs required a design utilizing motion sensors within a two-way mirror. Once again, Hovnanian positions us like voyeurs hiding behind a bush to get a good look at what’s going on.
Hovnanian is a forceful visual poet whose formal training in fine art allows her to gracefully articulate complex concepts into art installations that have the capacity to convert us. She has been an artist ever since she was a child. Her artist parents discouraged her from playing with Barbie dolls, instead emphasizing that “what was inside your brain is what is most important.” This supportive, intellectual encouragement from the very beginning, in addition to growing up in Texas, sharpened her sensibility and inspired her to translate patterns of human behavior directly into her work.
Mud Pie, Hovnanian’s upcoming show at the Leila Heller Gallery in New York, opens in May. The solo show includes large-scale installations, sculpture, mixed-media paintings, photography and four short films created by Hovnanian. We printed Deep Matte Digital-C prints of her “hyper-abundant floral arrangement” images called “Fake Flowers Dining Room” and “Fake Flowers Living Room.”
Elaborating on the theme of this solo exhibition, she says, “Mud Pie explores the blurring of reality and the narcissistic side of digital life. The viewer is invited into my dream/awake state as I identify commonplace sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and views of my early childhood in Texas. I ask everyone to imagine a young girl making mud pies in the backyard swallowed up in the world of make believe. I recall vividly the smell of pie in my mother’s kitchen, which triggers a powerful memory—but is it apple or mud? And my memory of a profusion of fresh flowers—real or is this more cultural taxidermy? I often think it took a digital revolution to overwhelm the mythic purity of both a child’s mud pie and a kitchen-baked, factory-fresh American apple pie and that we need to recall our own mud pie to preserve our earliest origins. We seem to have forgotten what is real. Fast food chains replaced cafes; children think a package of pink powder mixed with water is real lemonade made with freshly squeezed pink lemons. We think we have 1,000 real friends on Facebook. We are sucked into our screens and can’t find the time to separate from technology. Only when the power is down, or if we are visiting a remote place with no wireless, can we take a break.”
Seven years ago, Duggal printed Hovnanian’s photograph “Santori” for a body of work entitled Preservation of the Narcissus. The fine-art giclée print gave her the quality, color, richness and scale that she wanted. Ever since then, she has become more like family to Duggal than a client. Referring to our special relationship, Hovnanian wrote to me to say, “An artist needs to develop trust in the team. It’s an odd situation because you have an idea and you puzzle through many stages and at some point one’s vision appears and you hear and feel your own voice. When I walk into Duggal, I say hello to Rosie. Duggal has many women working for them. I work with Monica Drew who is a mother, a wife and a daughter, and balances her career and does all of this well. We connect on all of those levels, and she and the other women understand my work. It is so important to have support as well as production skill. Duggal provides me a feeling of safety because they produce quality, meet projected deadlines and have yet to disappoint.”
It’s a true honor for Duggal to work with artists like Rachel Hovnanian, the real soothsayers and healers of our era.