Multiple Readings – Colleen Wolstensholme
Text by Amber Berson
Colleen Wolstensholme can be said to have a certain fascination with repetition, the “female condition” and with the bio-medical. Her work, primarily three dimensional – ranges from large-scale sculpture to jewelry. Drawing on previous work, which commented on the way in which women are portrayed in popular culture and the prevalence of mood altering medication, Wolstensholme’s, new show is speaking about choice and our ability to choose how to present ourselves publicly and the ways in which this ultimately forces multiple readings.
Wolstensholme’s life size cow-headed female on settee (Exposée, 2011) is surrounded by forty ceramic shrouded female figures (Undercover, 2011). Her human/cow is a continuation of previous animal/human hybrids, however a marked difference between these is that the cow/girl is life size and it is the shrouded figures that are dwarfed by it. For Wolstensholme, the cow represents the mother goddess as noted in many cultures. Yet despite the goddess status, the cow is a work animal, and Wolstensholme is quick to highlight the relationship between animal husbandry – and the cow’s role – with the rise of capitalism. The cow/woman becomes a work animal at the disposal of those that need it, and the artist aims the work to be a reflection on how our global society values women. The pose of the sculpture, with its round bottom facing the spectator, is meant to demonstrate the sexualization of women – the old Madonna/Whore complex. The actual positioning of the body is borrowed from an anonymous 19th century photograph of a (nude) prostitute, further complicating the tableau of worship Wolstensholme has set up between the figures.
The photo-collage (Neuraesthenia, 2011) is made up of thousands of images of women interspersed with those of animals and decorative items, phrases and stickers all meant to represent neurons, the tiny cells that make up the nervous system. The mass of images, which form the backdrop to the tableau of animal/ female worship, work to simultaneously overwhelm the viewer and remind them of the ways in which we absorb and process the signs in which we see and believe in. In asking the viewer to consider the cow/woman with the shrouded women and the cacophony of background images the artist ultimately states that there is no one way to understand the situation and perhaps, it’s all just a little overwhelming.