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CORPOREAL INSULTS

The following is taken from the text by Professor Hedwig Meyer-Wilmes which accompanied the exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead, 9 October 1999 – January 2000, and the exhibition also travelled to Kunstlerhaus Ulm, Germany in 1999.

Anyone familiar with the figureless abstract sculptures of modern art will find themselves at once fascinated and troubled by the powerful figures depicted by woodcarver Christine Kowal Post. A myriad of figures gathers in the cosmos of her work, between heaven and earth, air and water; angels, animals and stately naked women, which are real female portraits. In her work you find almost all areas of classical sculpture; including reliefs, busts, but predominantly whole figures, and more recently also pair-sculptures.

Her art is troubling because she portrays humanity so closely and at the same time with such distance. It is fascinating because she succeeds in raising archaic images in the contradictory consciousness of modern man. The facial and bodily expressions of her figures give them a close humanity. On encountering the crouching figure of the stoned woman (Stoning, 1996) from the Christian Bible, the expression on this woman's face is one of suffering, and yet she can bear all of the pain.

The works of Christine Kowal Post are never unequivocal, but are open to countless interpretations. It is here that the fascination of her sculptures lies. It is a shock and in many respects an allure, which captivates the observer, (pain/desire, animal/human, man/woman) provoke tensions both menacing and charming at the same time. Archaic, mystical and religious images rise up, as in a half-sleep and demand to be animated, even in the face of modern resistance. One is captivated by her work even before the usual guards can come into place, and instead one falls into a conflict with her work. Thus the Woman being eaten by a Crocodile (1995) appears not only to have been swallowed by this creature, but also to be borne of him. Athene's birth out of the head of Zeus echoes here in a transformed style. The small Witch (1996) leers knowingly out of the flames, the large Witch 2 (1997) stoically. In the flames she no longer has the strength to bewitch literally or metaphorically and in the next moment she works once again as a Goddess, elevated above the perpetrator and the onlooker.

The polarisation of contradictions such as power and sacrifice, injury and beauty (Victims and Murderers, 1996), degradation and enthronement (Woman and Pig, 1998) create a tension, but at the same time a solution in one and the same figure. The solution however is only ever hinted at, never a clear-cut answer. Expulsion 2 leads us to those archetypes of humanity Adam and Eve, where the apparently incompatible conflicts between man and woman find expression. Indeed in the arrangement of their bodies and faces they struggle apart from one another. The woman has plague boils, the man stab-wounds. In their nakedness both their potency and their injuries are visible. Even in the paradise of being a couple it is not possible to live without danger. With all their desire for unity and harmony the individualized couple celebrate a bridal marriage and dance the bachelor Tango.

Anyone who relishes observing Christine Kowal Post's work cannot overlook her 'totem poles'. This trademark not only betrays her influences, but also her special sensibility for the abundant connections and power-relations of humanity. A totem pole was a symbolic expression of a particular clan using images of venerated plants, animals or humans. It was not to be destroyed if its enchantment was not to be broken. It was a pole of worship by which a certain order was revered, a martyr-stake by which to become master of chaos. The artist too establishes a certain order out of chaos. In Hierarchy (1994) the strength of man over woman and beast is expressed. The man enthroned at the top wields a gun in his hand, revealing the constrained power keeping this order in place.

In Victims and Murderers (1998) we see the 'modern' result of orders held together with power. The perpetrator-victim relationships here are not visible at first glance. The man shooting, the man about to be shot and the man prepared to show off his virility is always one and the same man. The woman is still alive, but not undamaged. Those wielding power are perpetrators and victims at the same time. The world within us is damaged, and not as safe as the promises of bourgeois society would like us to believe, but it survives.

Christine Kowal Post breaks the rules of modern sculpture. She rediscovers the figurative denied to us by abstract art. She proves herself as post-modernist allegorist, structuring her radical art through all ages, cultures and styles. And her work dares to make a statement, essentially that we must allow ourselves space for recollection. She usurps the universe with all its inconsistencies, reminding us of things we already overpoweringly believed. The beauty of her figures is damaged, the pride of the mostly female figures is acquired through suffering. In some ways the artist through compromised form documents our contradictory present through the use of traditional images. Her artistic universe is a chronological archive of humanity, constantly widening. She is an archivist who leads us and suffers with us. Injuries, plague boils, and blood on sculptures offend the conventional eye of the observer, are repugnant to the aesthetical sensitivities of modern man, who prefers to believe such things are under control. Our bodies, our senses and emotions have long told us what this artist dares to establish here: the chance for the future lies in acknowledging our vulnerability.

Professor Hedwig Meyer-Wilmes

Department of Theology and Religious Studies Katholiek Universiteit Nijmegen, July 1999

 

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