Local Arts

Winthrop exhibitions use humor and harsh reality to examine domestic issues

Kristin Smith Skees, “Angela and Steve,” 2011; archival inkjet print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper, 24 x 36 inches.
Kristin Smith Skees, “Angela and Steve,” 2011; archival inkjet print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper, 24 x 36 inches. Courtesy of Winthrop University Galleries

Two exhibitions at Winthrop University examine the perils of keeping things under wraps – literally and figuratively. Together, they explore numerous facets of personal relationships and identity.

Kristin Smith Skees’ “Cozy” uses humor to examine the comforts and constrictions of daily life. Cat Del Buono’s “Voices” is a tough, raw look at the personal experiences of domestic violence survivors.

Skees, who teaches in the Department of Fine Arts at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., creates elaborately staged photographs of people in familiar environments such as living rooms, backyards, parks and workplaces.

But each subject is shrouded in a heavy knitted cozy that obscures most physical features, leaving only the subject’s surroundings to provide clues to his or her identity.

These photographs address two related phenomena: how we rely on our possessions and other external factors to create identity and how comfort can be both a balm and a trap.

Although Skees’ message is sometimes a little hard to follow, this work succeeds because of its visual intensity, precise color choices and absurd humor. The most effective works are set in homes and yards, where the relationship between the subject and his or her possessions and surroundings is clearest.

For example, “Christie” shows a woman covered in a polka-dot cozy, posed in a cheery retro kitchen, as if trapped in Pinterest Hell.

“Brett and Mindi: ICEE” is a hilarious depiction of repressed anger seething under a thin veneer of suburban bliss. Here, a man and woman, encased in green cozies, sit on a deck; on the green table between them is the titular Icee – and a watermelon with a large knife stuck ominously in its bright red flesh.

These images directly address domestic entrapment and being smothered – by both the cozy and the environment.

For her video installation “Voices,” New York-based Del Buono interviewed domestic violence survivors from across the country. (This version includes seven Rock Hill-area women, six of them Winthrop students.)

Appropriately, this exhibition is heard before it is seen.

While downstairs enjoying “Cozy,” you can here chatter emanating from “Voices” in the upstairs gallery. As you ascend the stairs, you become engulfed in a sea of talk. It’s not loud, but it’s all encompassing and persistent. Is this community? Or is this sensory overload, something for the compassion-fatigued to tune out?

Once in the gallery, you are surrounded by 21 small video monitors, each with a survivor telling her story. All the participants are anonymous; only their mouths are visible. The only way to hear an individual voice is to get very close, as if you are listening to someone you truly care about.

Many of the stories are similar, but every voice is different – different languages, races, ages and economic circumstances. It brings home dramatically that domestic violence is common, that fear keeps victims silent, and that speaking out is both difficult and necessary.

“Voices” does not tell us anything we don’t already know; instead, it forces us to acknowledge that which we try to ignore.

This is a very effective set of exhibitions for a college community, for emerging adults who are negotiating relationships on their own. But a larger audience will also find plenty of catharsis and fodder for conversation.

Barbara Schreiber is a painter who periodically writes about visual art. Her art has been shown in PS1, the High Museum of Art and more; her writing has appeared in Art Papers, Sculpture magazine and others.

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.

‘Cozy’ and ‘Voices’

When: Through March 11.

Where: “Cozy” is in Rutledge Gallery, and “Voices” in Elizabeth Dunlap Patrick Gallery, bothin the Rutledge Building at Winthrop University, Rock Hill.

Details: 803-323-2493; www.winthrop.edu/galleries

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