Pamela De Marris is correct to observe that "We all have stereotypical ideas regarding others." The Muncie-based artist, whose recent body of work, Pink People, is on view at 4 Star Gallery, has departed from her previous mode of staging real people in imagined settings to convey gender and/or societal roles in challenging ways. The artist"s departure is not in the topic, but instead in the stage sets. Here, De Marris poses plastic pink Barbie-like women in domestic and social settings to challenge us similarly. By employing fake figures De Marris is perhaps more direct with her assertions, despite her statement that the work "is intended to challenge the viewer to think about their personal preconceived notion of others."
"Art Reception," part of Pamela De Marris" current exhibit, "Pink People," now on view at 4 Star
My views, instead of being challenged, only stand affirmed. My preconceived notion of these women, or rather, these types of women, remains. In other words, the fact that, as De Marris says, "These conversations have actually been heard and you and I may have participated in some," is disturbing, to say the least.
In "Censored," two plastic women (literally and figuratively) stand in an art gallery viewing photographs of a gay wedding. One says to the other, referring to a photograph including the parents of the men, "Look, they even attended the wedding. Why would they encourage their son to make such a spectacle? What a mockery, and now to have this exhibit. It"s disgusting!"
And the other responds, "Yeah, I had to come and see it for myself, too." The problem here is obvious. No doubt there are many of us, a disturbingly high number, who would relate to these women and share their prurient interest as well as unconscious judgment. But in the art world, of course, these stereotypical responses are uncommon. One hopes that De Marris" message is not lost on the larger public.
In "Elderly Care," by way of contrast, the roles are less clear as to who is unconscious. A woman stands talking to a receptionist at a nursing home, where the pink woman"s mother has fallen out of her wheelchair and is lying face down. She casually observes that for the amount of money she"s paying, you"d think the staff could prevent their charges from falling out of their wheelchairs. But the more pressing question, beyond her superficial concern, is, why do we live in a culture where our elderly are placed in what amounts to a hospital, as if age is an illness?
Other topics addressed include stereotypes around plastic surgery, social standing, wealth, sports obsessions (in one case, at the expense of one"s mental health patients), more pieces addressing censorship and the general "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality that is still pervasive in our society. The lack of consciousness reflected here goes far beyond the stereotypical. While these images are humorous, they are also deeply disturbing.
With this work De Marris does more than skirt the issues, and it is entirely appropriate that the scenes are contrived. From a technical standpoint, this was not an easy body of work to create. The photographs are not digitally manipulated, lending them a welcome artistic purity. (I"m not knocking digital photography - it"s what the artist does with the medium that counts.) This is a welcome progression for De Marris.
Pink People, photographs by Pamela De Marris, is on view through July 27 at 4 Star Gallery, 653-9 Massachusetts Ave., 686-6382, www.4stargallery.com. Call for hours.