Artist Katie Garth discusses the collaborative show she curated at Union South's Gallery 1308.
For the show Twenty-Three Sisters, which opens Friday at Union South's Gallery 1308 and runs through Sept. 30, Madison-based artist and graphic designer Katie Garth challenged 23 female artists (including herself) to contemplate the theme of sisterhood. And specifically the lack of sisterhood, as none of the artists represented in the show have sisters.
"It was one of the first times that I ever really remembered just being struck with an idea. It seemed so obvious after I thought of it that I went, 'well, someone's obviously had to have done something with that,' but I couldn't find anything particularly in visual art," Garth said while setting up the show earlier this week. "I think the thing that resonated with all of us was that it wasn't something that we'd ever spent a lot of time thinking about, particularly in our adult lives, but it crept under our skin once we started thinking about it."
The artists, including several Garth knows from her time as a student in UW-Madison's art department, took the prompt and ran with it, in paintings, mixed-media sculpture, prints, and a video installation.
Garth says her own contribution to the show, "Tiebreaker," represents a struggle to not romanticize the theme of sisterhood. "When you see sisterhood in pop culture, it's always mysticized, and that's sort of what propagates this longing in all of us who don't have a sister," she says. "In my own family, I think I was fortunate to hold a very distinct place as the only female child, and just thinking about the reality of having a sister, another human who I'm comparing myself to, could have as many problems as there would be benefits."
One of the most immediately striking pieces in the show, Naomi Nakazato's "A Half And A Quarter (Irrelevant)," combines stately oil-painting portraiture with bubbly figures from Japanese street art. Garth says Nakazato created the piece to discuss being of Japanese and American heritage and not feeling fully part of either culture. "I don't want to put words in her mouth, but she is depicted with a woman she knows through an online group for people who have mixed Japanese descent, her friend Connie, who is a quarter Japanese," Garth says.
It's hard not to notice a playful streak in the show. Maren Muñoz's small print "Sprinkle Sis" shows what appear to be malformed ice-cream cones with real sprinkles attached to the surface. J. Myszka Lewis turned in a set of four hand-embroidered towels titled "Hers, Hers, Hers, Hers," which hangs on towel rods attached right to the gallery wall. It's paired with another piece, "I Do What I Want," which is a mirror with the words "DONT CARE" spelled out in bold frosted-glass capitals. Madison artist Angela Richardson continues her explorations into interactive performance pieces with "Wanted: Sister(s)," a flyer with contact-info tabs that gallery visitors are indeed intended to tear off and use to get in touch with Richardson outside of the confines of the show.
The one video piece in the show is "Kindred," by Jessica Doing. "This is by, full disclosure, one of my best friends, and her partner Max Puchalsky scored the music for it," Garth says. "This is an image of her that sort of transforms in and out of an image of her family pet, a golden retriever named Chloe. They do a lot of work that discusses the dichotomy of the way that we treat humans and the way that we treat animals."
As much work as it must have been to get a big group of artists on board with a pretty specific theme, the theme also doesn't feel confining. In her curator's statement, Garth says the idea of sisterhood in 'Twenty-Three Sisters' is "framed as a lack thereof," and the compelling openness of that statement results in an ambitious, compelling group of works.