Doppelbangers (holding hands we both abandon sorrow)
2010 DAWN FRASCH’s paintings, drawings and videos are intensely visceral, teetering on the line between the beautiful and the grotesque. Her work references both art history and pop culture, using the female form, not as an object, but as a vehicle to explore subjective experiences of trauma, desire, and horror. Dawn exhibits internationally and lives in Brooklyn, New York.OtherPeoplesPixels: You make paintings and drawings, but you also make videos that combine stop-motion animation with live action, and some of these make use of the imagery from the paintings and drawings. Could you talk a bit about your influences and how each of your media feeds into the others?Dawn Frasch: Artists I love, like James Ensor and Géricault, kept objects in their studio to work from. These guys use masks, dead fish, and exhumed body parts, all of which which inspire me as well. James Ensor combines dramatic narrative, comedic exaggeration, and relates it to the political and the daily. He inspired me when I was around 19 to start a practice like this. I tried painting fish from life, but that gets smelly so fast. I started making my own objects as well as collecting them. I always wanted to make movies, so it was natural to bring these objects to life that were alive in the paintings.Switching mediums also allows me to change the points of reference for the viewer. It expands my audience and venue possibilities. My video visually references TV and movies. The dialogue is part original/ part appropriation. Sometimes it’s from the Bible, the original epic drama. In my painting, I appropriate from narrative painting. In my drawings, I reference comic books. Working this way keeps a cyclical recycling of ideas. I got into art as a way to deal with depression and trauma. After making it out of a bad situation and going to art school, it was humiliating to find out the stories and creations that kept me alive were cliche and embarrassing. I recycle images, like fetuses and monsters, from this past, reinventing and expanding their context. I find the transformation of cliches to be very liberating. I know it's selfish to search for personal liberation through art, but it can also be a way to connect with people who are also searching for transcendence whilst relishing in the dregs of reality.
2010OPP: I don’t think that’s selfish at all. I think that’s actually always, at least partially, a driving force in making art. And people who won’t admit that are lying or simply not very self aware, in my humble opinion. Would you mind telling us about the first time art liberated you or a time when you became aware of art’s transformative power? DF: The one that stands out the most clearly is all the fetus art I did after my first abortion. I'm soooo glad I was able to have one. I was 16 and in a horrible situation. I had to go to Delaware because of Rick Santorum's "awesome" laws. I didn't have any regrets AT ALL. I was pretty obsessed with death at the time, but there was still this left-over energy that I didn’t know where to put. I made a lot of fetus art, and it felt really exhilarating. Also, when I was younger, I drew Garfield, and it looked "right.” That was magical.OPP: Your drawings from 2009 amaze, disgust, and excite me. I'm thinking of pieces like Manny Eater and Crab Snatch, in which the labia are grotesquely large and blob-like and take over everything around them. They are truly gross, but in exactly the right way to challenge assumptions about woman's bodies. I'd love to hear more about these pieces.DF: Those pieces are a spin on the Kuniyoshi prints of Tanuki from around 1844. Tanuki are a mythical racoon/human hybrid who can magically enlarge their testicles. In the prints they use this power to do practical things like make soup and cross rivers. It was fun to play with the cliche of bragging about giant balls to prove confidence. The mythical creature in mine was Lazy Pig, a character from one of my movies that I play wearing a muppet-like mask. She uses magic to perpetuate sloth, like grabbing a sandwich from the fridge instead of getting up.When I made those pieces, it was a summer break from grad school, and I was incredibly depressed. I couldn't get out of bed. My dog died, and my girlfriend dumped me. The sex with my ex was insanely consuming. I felt consumed by desire in a similar way that the labia consume and take over everything. I never planned to show them to art people. I definitely thought my comic loving friends would get a kick out of them. I also had bedbugs at the time. They were posted on my wall and my exterminator thought they were funny and gross. Humor can be a defense mechanism. It’s not only a survival skill, but also a relatable point of access for the viewer. Also it's one of my favorite parts of being alive. The connection between two humans laughing about something upsetting together is an amazing bonding experience. These pieces were a huge breakthrough for me. They solved a problem of how to deal with the female body and still carry on the themes of my earlier work. I think its important to retreat from an audience and try ideas without worrying about the response. These labia attacks have continued to operate in my work as a cyclical structure to talk about the masturbatory nature of expressing one's feelings through art with self deprecating humor.
watercolor on paper
12"x15"OPP: There's so much awesome grossness in your work: zombies, blood, disembodied breasts, fluids of all kinds, mashed-up food covered in fur and maggots, the endlessly-expanding labia mentioned above. It's clear to me that you are dealing with the Abject, but most interesting to me is that there is a particularly feminist flavor of the Abject (as opposed to what Mike Kelly or Paul McCarthy does), The gross things you do to the female body don't read as a reiteration of the male gaze, but rather as a challenge to it. Are you coming from a feminist point of view?DF: I do personally identify as a feminist. Whether or not my art is feminist art is up to the viewer. My use of the Abject is an attempt to feel empowered to transcend my body and mortality, so reflecting back to my biography and identity can be frustrating. Before I had the female image in the work, being a female artist was always part of the dialogue anyway. Literally, dudes would say, it's pretty good for a chick, and shit like that.I didn't feel connected to feminism until I moved to the bay area. The Riot Grrrl version of feminism made so much sense to me. If women feel they have no voice in their local scenes, they can take it upon themselves to represent their own interests by making their own zines, music, and art. Of course, I really loved the taking back of the meaning of derogatory terms for empowerment. That's super fun. I was really lucky to be discovered by one of the bay area's legendary geniuses Janelle Hessig. She eyed up my sorry-ass scrabblin’ in my sketchbook on the street and started chatting me up. Her way of looking at the world was unapologetic and hilarious. Learning from her was like when Roddy Piper puts on the glasses in They Live. Coming back to the east coast with those glasses was challenging. The crazy sexist shit that comes out of people's mouths can be laughable because of the cluelessness. I've said really thoughtless things about women, too, but sometimes I still wanna smack those garbage mouths.
OPP: Give me an example of the cluelessness.DF: I had a fancy dinner with a gallery owner that teaches media culture at a prestigious university. He denied the existence of the male gaze, and his proof was "chicks love horror movies where women are degraded; it's all fun.” I argued with him a bit, but he was power-trippin’ pretty hard, because he knows I'm not represented by a gallery. He's obviously just a foolio, but it's good to know these voices are in the art industry, so I can be prepared and ask galleries the right questions.
DetailOPP: What’s your relationship to the male gaze and how does your work add to the discourse around it?DF: It’s shaped by being a queer woman who is seduced by these images and repulsed by the obvious fallacies. I feel empathy with others who are seduced by these images of women. Images of hardcore porn are virtually unavoidable, making the pornographic a part of our daily routine. It's insidious how these images of hairless airbrushed idealized female forms warp the societal view of sexuality. It perpetuates this myth of a static beauty, when the reality of beautiful things is that they evolve and decay. I'm really enjoying expanding and flipping cliches of the male gaze. The labia monsters transform from a passive female into an active more phallic monster. I have also been taking venus paintings and making the lounging beauties more passive by dismembering them. They have ovaries on the outside which was related to an absurd idea I had that men have to act so macho because they have these vulnerable sacks hanging out. I was imagining how vulnerable it would feel to have my ovaries dangling outside my body. It's all very playful and ties into the many themes in my work. My work is about human issues as well as female issues.
2009OPP: Could you talk about the sandwich with olives for eyes? He/she/it shows up in several drawings, in your video Armchair Anarchist (2009) as a main character called Sandwich and in In the Ancient Brain of No Memory (2011) as a reincarnation of Peter Paul Rubens. When did you first use this character/image? How has he/she/it evolved in your work?DF: I've love comics and comic exaggeration. I love finding comedic expression in daily life, like found objects and found faces! I use this as another strategy to connect fantasy to the daily. I use tomato seeds for teeth, floppy meat for tongues. The olive eyes specifically is a Sesame Street reference. Sesame Street was my first relationship with media and is integral in my relationship with fact and fiction. The way I use food is connected with intimacy and desire. Whenever I am really happy, my appetite is insatiable. I talk to sandwiches while I'm eating them because I love them so much. Sometimes I talk to imaginary sandwiches that I wish I had. They are meant to be held in your hand, and they look like a little face. My movie Armchair Anarchist uses this relationship between the main character lazy pig whose best friend is a talking sandwich. The desire for sex and food is blurred, and lazy pig eats her best friend. Getting lost in desire and destroying the thing you desire the most has resonated with a lot of people I chat with. I'm continuing with talking food in the comic book I started which is a prequel to Armchair Anarchist. The impending Apocalypse is caused by women using bone marrow stem cell reproduction to eliminate men from the human race....all rational systems break down, emotions rampage....an unusual side effect happens... the birthing of living sandwiches!!!! It's called Pussy Intimidation. I told this to a guy friend recently, and he said he wouldn't have the balls to use the word pussy. Then he went on to talk about cocky male artists, how he looked up to them, and how he was gonna get tattoos of them by his balls. He actually pointed to his balls. The more I gave him the blank stare, the more he talked about his balls! Hahahah. So hilarious.
2009OPP: What's going on in 2012 for you, either in terms of upcoming exhibitions or new work you are excited about?DF: I'm currently printing and binding/stitching copies of my the comic. It will be available on my website soon. The amazing artist Josh Bayer let me sell some at his table at MoCCA recently. The whole event was packed with inspiring artists. I'm silkscreening and getting prints and shirts available, too.I’m also really excited to have 10 new paintings in a group show about female sexuality at Ten Haaf Projects in Amsterdam. That show opens June 2. I have a new video in the works called Easter Special, which is based on the story of Mary Toft. In 1726, Toft tricked doctors into believing that she had given birth to rabbits by inserting dead animal parts into her uterus. I found out about this story through a book of etchings. So yeah, lots of new forms and projects, as always.