Womanhood 102: Lesley Bodzy and Katie Commodore Challenge Gender Norms

Installation view Womanhood 102 (with Lesley Bodzy’s Soft Embrace I, 2022. Acrylic. 69 x 43 x 11 inches, on the left and works by Katie Commodore in the middle and on the right). Courtesy of the curator.

A golden, shimmering drapery cascades from the wall—the skin-like surface of Soft Embrace is from Lesley Bodzy’s experimental work with acrylic paint. She uses the liquid pigment as a sculptural material, shaped into a malleable cloth, reminding of Lynda Benglis’s poured latex on the floor or Eva Hesse’s visceral and alluring sculptures. The sensuous object evokes a tactile experience, an imagination of how touching it might feel, through looking. Matter surprises, entering a threshold between fluid and solid, elasticity and delicacy. Jamaica Kincaid’s 1978 story Girl tells a mother-daughter dispute about how a girl should behave. “…on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming…” The mother’s advice seems endless and castigating, instructing every aspect of daily living. Side-by-side, Bodzy’s curved drapery recalls ‘how girls should behave,’ as it seemingly hides things beneath and its smooth surface presents an image of flawless elegancy, concealing feelings in a muted position.

Referencing the text, alongside Camille Rainville’s poem Be a Lady They Said, the two-person show of Bodzy and Katie Commodore, curated by Erica Criss at Space 776 through June 8 attempts to rebel against repressive gender socialization. Norms, pressures, and sometimes trauma passed down by female elders are deliberately represented or subverted through the artists’ use of materials and ways of guiding the viewer’s gaze. The imperative tone and words of the writings articulate public command to females and social rules about so-called femininity.

With her sculptures, Bodzy often questions the idealized, unattainable beauty in societal expectations of women. In her FOGO (Fear of Growing Old) series, deflated balloons are sealed within resin, and their wrinkles become unchanging. The biomorphic shapes allude to aging human skin, though their fixed positions and vibrant color draw an illusion of reversing the decay of bodies. The sculpture Goddess is sewn and tied with lace but pierced and hung by metal hooks, depicting a sense of ambivalence and contradiction.

Contradictory lines in Rainville’s Be a Lady They Said speak about the impossible standards imposed upon women’s behavior. “Lady” or “girl” are words that do not simply refer to the factual status of the biological sex but imply societal expectations and attitudes on how females are supposed to perform themselves, docile or elegant.

Installation view Womanhood 102 (Commodore’s Carly, 2020. Mixed media on the digitally woven tapestry. 56 ⅞ x 48 ⅜ inches on the left and works by Lesley Bodzy in the middle and on the right). Courtesy of the curator.

Commodore’s work emancipates the often-constrained bodily expression of women. Her paintings and woven tapestries portray her friends in sexual poses with a sense of playfulness and relaxation. The artist did not direct the positions of the models in the images. The modeling process comes from sharing intimacy and expression; the figures are the subjects of their actions and comportments rather than being viewed and objectified by an authorized gaze—as we often see in classical paintings. Using embroidery, once considered a “woman’s craft,” Commodore emphasizes its traditional merit and empowers the “women’s hobby.”

Installation view Womanhood 102 (Commodore’s watercolors on ivory in middle and Lesley Bodzy’s Hearsay, 2023. Silicone molded ears. 3.5 inch each. Variable edition of 50, below). Courtesy of the curator.

Bodzy’s With Every Single Breath series also nods to works by women. Taking their shapes from crushed paper bags, the sculptures become a metaphor for domestic labor often carried by women. But in this work, the fragile paper is transformed into a solid shape with 3D-printed plastic and detached from daily routines. In the exhibition, these sculptures cross over walls and columns, hinting at fluid connections between different works. Criss’s curation intentionally juxtaposes the two artists’s works, arranging them with echoing colors, patterns, and scales. Beneath With Every Single Breath are Commodore’s small-scale watercolor on ivory series and Bodzy’s Hearsay —a pile of translucent silicone ears. The wall niche that holds the works seems like someone’s cabinet of collections, but what is to be observed or worshipped is an explicit expression of intimacy and sensuality.

Lesley Bodzy. With Every Single Breath II, 2023. 3D-rendered plastic. 6 x 9 x 4 inches each. Edition of 8. Courtesy of the curator.

In her essay Throwing Like a Girl, Iris Marion Young defines “femininity” as “a set of structures and conditions which delimit the typical situation of being a woman in a particular society, as well as the typical way in which this situation is lived by the women themselves.” Femininity becomes a quality of the female existence, but Young argues that no women need to be “feminine” or for there to be a typical behavior associated with the situation of women. The artists Bodzy and Commodore also give their answer: escape the typical definition of femininity and make space for multiplicities of being women.

Womanhood 102 is on view at Space 776 through June 8, 2024. Follow @lbodzy and @katiecommodore for their latest updates.

Lesley Bodzy is a sculptor and painter based in New York City and Houston. Her work explores how materiality can give form and visibility to psychologically complex experiences. Trauma, loss, and desire are recurring themes that emerge through material processes and thoughtfully devised personal metaphorical language. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BA from Mount Holyoke College. She also studied at Hunter College and the Art Students League of New York. Her work is represented by galleries in Houston, TX, Saugerties, NY, Williamsburg, VA, and Jersey City, NJ, and has been exhibited widely across the United States and abroad. Past exhibitions include SPRING/BREAK Art Show NYC 2022, ChaShaMa and Sculptors Alliance in New York City, Holy Art Gallery in London, UK, Site: Brooklyn, Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, NY, the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, CT, the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, PA, and the Meadows Gallery in Tyler, TX. Recent press includes Art Houston Magazine, Cultbytes, Art Fuse, and Art Spiel.

Katie Commodore’s parents could have told you when she was a toddler that she would grow up to be an artist, despite years of her insisting that she was going to be an astronaut and them sending her to Space Camp twice. Never giving up her dreams of painting Martian landscapes and testing low-gravity pastels, she went to art school, which surprisingly lacked the rigorous science background NASA required. Katie attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, graduating with a BFA in Illustration. After time spent abroad, in locales including Florence, Paris, Prague, and Greece, plus a short stint in Las Vegas that is better left unspoken about, Katie returned to school, attending the Rhode Island School of Design, and earning her MFA in Printmaking. After 14 years in Brooklyn, she returned to Providence to reside and is now Adjunct Faculty at her alma mater and Clark University.

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Yindi Chen is a curator and writer based in New York. Her research focuses on art practice related to the Anthropocene, ecofeminism, and queer ecology. She has contributed writings to The Art Newspaper China, Cultbytes, C-print Journal, and Whitehot Magazine. Chen holds an M.A. in Curatorial Practice from the School of Visual Arts, New York, and a B.A. in Curating and Art History from the University of York, UK.

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