On a surface level, the works in CAM Raleigh’s new exhibition, Girl Talk: Women and Text, are neither immediately “beautiful” nor overtly avant-garde—they seem almost too easy to understand. Their veiled simplicity captures the very nature of “girl talk”: an interaction between women that, from a distance, seems to consist of gossip or superficial topics, but is actually nuanced, heartfelt and cathartic. It’s only after leaving the museum that Girl Talk comes alive; its importance lies not within the viewer’s immediate perception of the artwork, but rather in the lingering afterthoughts it inspires.
The work that most strongly conveys this emotional depth is “Elegy” by Monique Priesto. Consisting of ten square cotton cloths hanging on a blank wall, each piece is spray-painted with a unique phrase or word. To read the phrase completely I had to walk up to the wall and pull out the fabric. The phrase “the sea being rough sailed all night all night and most glorious and much more” seems childish without any context. But, as with so much of the exhibit, the piece holds layered meanings. The text is from the diary of Samuel Pepys, the first published diarist, and the maritime theme is reflected in the fabric pieces, which were hung like rigged sails. The work is meant for the viewer to walk up and personally read each sail. Just like a hushed, personal conversation between women, the piece is a one-on-one experience.
The exhibit also features Marilyn Minter’s video I’m Not Much, But I’m All I Think About in the downstairs screening room. The 20-minute piece is a hi-res film that shows two letter “M”s falling into a metallic liquid. The second “M” is turned sideways, so that the two letters spell “me.” In the video, Minter explores—and mocks—the idea of the artist’s narcissism. I found myself sitting in the room by myself for two whole durations of the film, watching the letters splash in the medium (metallic paint suspended in vodka) with a hypnotic bass in the background.
Seven other women artists are featured in the exhibit, with pieces ranging from Lisa Anne Auerbach’s Everything I Touch Turns to Sold (six sweater-clad hanging mannequins) to Maya Schindler’s I Am Somebody, a ten-foot tall block plastered with spray-painted pink posters. Kate Shafer, the Gallery and Exhibitions Manager, says that the work is “political, personal, and sometimes both.”
Some of the pieces clearly contain feminist undertones; for example, Auerbach’s sweaters display messages such as, “where there’s drink there’s always danger.” In contrast, some of the works seem to have neither a political nor emotional emphasis, such as Kim Rugg’s 30 New York Times newspapers with everything whited out except for individual letters.
In a recent radio interview on The State Of Things, CAM Raleigh’s executive director Elysia Borowy Reeder explained that the title of the exhibition was meant to subvert audience expectations: “We posed some questions that challenged preconceived notions, you know, what is ‘girl talk’? What does it mean?”
CAM Raleigh, then, was—and is—an ideal space to display provocative modern art. Centered in the heart of downtown, the Contemporary Art Museum was founded in 1983 and in 2006 merged with the NC State College of Design. It aims to “curate most contemporary works in art and design,” says Shafer. The museum usually finds its artists through a variety of methods, including both public calls and commissions of established artists. Girl Talk itself combines the works of both well-known and emerging female artists, a distinction blurred in the exhibition.
“I enjoy looking at artwork and not figuring it out,” said Shafer. This mindset frees the viewer from overanalysis and allows us to place more trust in the artist. That in itself is a liberating feeling akin to the honesty associated with “real” girl talk.
Girl Talk: Women in Text will be on display at CAM Raleigh through January 14, 2013.