The New York artist Orly Genger makes sculpture inspired by conversations frustrations, as was Flaubert when he lamented, "Language is but a tin drum we beat out for a dancing bear, when we hope our music will move the stars." Using only her fingers as tools, Genger crochets chunky yarn and heavy industrial elastic into abstract shapes that are simple but rich in personal associations.
Gengers work ranges from small, delicate wall pieces that can resemble organs, dimpled flesh or foam packing peanuts to elaborate installation works. In a performance at the Haifa Second International Installation Triennale in 2003, for instance, Genger stood in the center of a knit "map" made of variegated sections, wearing a knit headdress with long snakelike "tresses" that draped down to the ground.
After graduating from Brown University in 2001, Genger exhibited with the Stefan Stux Gallery in New York and at the Haifa Museum of Art in Israel. Her first solo exhibition opens at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery on Sept. 9 2004, and she is making an installation for the "Young Emerging Artists" show at Socrates Sculpture Park, opening on Sept. 12.
Ana Finel Honigman: Do you think it is too easy to read feminist influences in your work because crocheting is a traditional feminine hand-craft?
Orly Genger: Well, the work is rooted in a feminist tradition so it is not surprising that it can be read in that way.
AFH: Do you think a feminist vocabulary is still relevant now?
OG: Yes. As long as women walk the earth it is relevant.
AFH: Sure, but is it still relevant to be making feminist art?
OG: Im not so sure what the difference is. Art by women has evolved as women have gained a stronger voice in society, but the feminist method of expression is still pertinent.
AFH: Yet a lot of younger women artists seem uncomfortable with that term.
OG: I think some women find the term limiting, or find that it is a way of simplifying their work. I dont think it needs to be. It can be used as a springboard for new ways of thinking about and making art. It is also important that it be used to make a more welcoming community for women artists.
AFH: You are amazing at connecting people; how do you think young women artists ought to organize to form a more cohesive and productive network within the art community?
OG: Simply by forging friendships that are professionally, and creatively, supportive. Friendships can act as a truly strong positive and productive force. It is so motivating to experience women in the art world that are supportive of one another.
AFH: How does your concern with feminist issues relate to your work?
OG: I think there are still young women who see the word "feminist" as linked to victimhood or aggression. But a lot of the feminist work I admire is neither aggressive nor pitying. This work is visceral or has some focus on the body as object, like Ana Mendieta or Marina Abramovic or sometimes Janine Antoni. I wonder why women tend to look more at these issues than men do.
AFH: Why do you think?
OG: Maybe women are constantly trying to define the body because they often find themselves being defined by it. Yet at the same time there is a feeling of being divorced from the body, as if physical identity belongs to the world as much as to oneself. So, female artists are often trying to deal with this "thing" that seems to define us in some way and separate us. And this "thing" really starts to become an object that we can hold up to the light and inspect from all angles, like sculpture.
AFH: So, what would you categorize as typical "male work" versus this more sensual feminine or feminist type of art, which you create?
OG: It is difficult to categorize but it is possible that men make work that is more about the way they effect the world than about how they are effected by it. This is a gigantic generalization, but I think there is still something there. The notion of "the body" is important in my work, but also the idea of that instinctive language or an "almost language" which can be just as primitive or irreplaceable as the body. And also just as difficult to explain.
AFH: Couldnt that description of your art, as something that cannot be plainly articulated, pertain to all art?
OG: Yes, thats true. It can be like looking at a written language before we actually know how to read it. It is recognizable but not clearly defined. It can be determined but not articulated.
AFH: Like a Rorschach test?
OG: Well, not exactly. But there is something in that mysterious space between what we see and what we understand that is so intriguing. That in-between space where anything can happen. There is a moment when we desperately try to understand something we are looking at. That moment is where translation happens and that translation is its own language. It is only when we see something we think we know that we can begin to see that thing as if it were new.
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is assistant editor at Artnet Magazine.