Amy Cutler: Past, Present, Progress at Ruby City in San Antonio follows a community of women performing ambiguous domestic tasks as a means of feminist critique.
Amy Cutler: Past, Present, Progress
April 6, 2023–February 25, 2024
Ruby City, San Antonio
Stepping into Amy Cutler: Past, Present, Progress is like being transported to a mystical land lost in time, inhabited by an ecofeminist tribe of women who are engrossed in strenuous and mysterious activities. The New York-based artist is known for her surrealist depictions of women working, playing off of traditional female archetypes with a dark utopian twist. The exhibition marks her first solo show in Texas.
Two of the key artworks in the show are a large graphite drawing and a pseudo-bedroom installation in the corner of the gallery, both of which are titled Fossa. Braids, and hair in general, are a common motif within the exhibition, alluding to the perpetual passage of time. In the drawing Fossa (2016), communes of women are quite literally intertwined with nature, their factory-like abodes constructed inside of hollowed-out tree trunks which are connected by webs of braided hair. The installation Fossa (2015), which was made in collaboration with musician Emily Wells and hairstylist Adriana Papaleo, transports visitors into the homely rooms from the drawing. Within the space a giant hive of synthetic hair is the central piece, with spools of braids measuring over 800 feet long stretching across the gallery’s ceiling. A few of the braids are connected to headphones which visitors are invited to wear as music and bits of conversation composed by Wells create an immersive experience, complete with the weightiness of the long braids.
Many of the scenarios Cutler depicts appear to be based in reality at first, but the closer you look the weirder things become. Heads are detached from bodies. Horses float through the air dodging harpoon-like umbrellas. The illustrative quality of her drawings along with the dainty linework and vivid colors immediately bring to mind Indian miniature paintings fused with American folk art.
In almost every composition, the women Cutler creates always seem to be working. They undertake their tasks hypnotically, perhaps even mindlessly. Their eyes trail off into the distance, unfocused. Their expressions can only be described as resigned. Although they work as a collective, they exude a sense of utter loneliness. One gets the feeling that these women have been working since the beginning of time and are fated to an eternity of such. It begs the question: what task are they working to complete? Or is the illusion of the neverending chore part of Cutler’s commentary on social and gender mores?
At her core, Cutler is a magical realist, which is why her work functions so well as a compelling feminist critique. Underneath the elements of fantasy there are layers of truth about the realities of domestic work and labor. Her folkloreish societies open up space to reconsider commonly held perceptions of womanhood and the lived experiences of women.