January 29 - April 4, 2021
Otherworldly Abundance is an immersive exhibition that reorients concepts of fatness, the grotesque, and extraterrestrial worlds. Imagery of carbohydrates, like bread and potato chips, complicate ideas of fatness, food, and the modern-day understanding of the word grotesque by situating the viewer inside an abundance of nourishment. Micro and macro worlds echo each other, inviting the viewer into a pastel hued world of Candyland meets gingerbread house.
On the micro scale, a fat alien goddess named Numina and her zaftig friends lounge in their extraterrestrial world; an alien utopia that functions as a flourishment of fatness. Numina is an alien goddess character that was created by three-dimensionally scanning and then rendering the costumed artist into a six-inch-tall plastic action figure. Pastel islands shaped like organic doorways or mounds are bordered in mortar that resembles the frosted border on a cake. Dwellings and structures made of salt dough, plaster, mortar, drywall compound, wax, and found plastic and foam toys emerge from the islands. Salt dough shaped by drying on bunt pans and mixing bowls folds like skin and is dotted with salt crystal pores. The structures and dwellings are non-traditional with open doorways and windows; resembling forms like Epcot, Auroville, and Salvation Mountain, these buildings feel more like structures made for ritual and contemplation.
The theme of constructed worlds continues on the macro level with the grotto. In the fifteenth century Nero’s Domus Aurea, a forgotten underworld palace, was rediscovered beneath the streets of Rome. The rooms were ornately decorated with frescos, mosaics, and abundant gold leaf. In awe, artists would visit the site, becoming heavily influenced by the spectacle. Deeming the ruin “grottesca” or “of the cave,” the imagery and word would eventually morph into the contemporary grotesque.[i] The Domus Aurea is not, however, how one would describe popular understandings of the grotesque. When one thinks of the word grotesque, we imagine abjection, horror, even gore. Grotesque applied to fatness is pejorative; it exposes the biases of the contemporary social imagination. The grotto’s façade is decorated not with shells (like the rococo grotto) but with breads- a demonized food that is blamed for fatness (characterized by low carbohydrate diets like Wheat Belly, Atkins, etc.), but is also a source of comfort (as we’ve seen during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting surge of home baking that took place). There is a massive wealth of breads, a number that has the potential to feel overwhelming, chaotic, or comical; words that are interchangeable with derisive concepts of fatness. But the breads, buns, and chips are used in a way that is decorative. This grotto is aesthetically pleasing, as if from a fairytale, it is playful and inviting. It engages the abundance of material without manifesting the feelings of disgust or abjection that accompany modern understandings of grotesque. This is partially due to the decorative application of material but is also reinforced by sounds emanating from a mini-waterfall fountain and the use of human scale architecture to create the grotto. The viewer wanders through the grotto as if wandering through a garden or park; it is a tranquil meander, an opportunity to undo the associations that the grotto-esque/grotesque normally provokes.
In Otherworldly Abundance we enter a world that embodies magnitude and miniature in one, making uneasy the question of scale and size. Not interested in fetishizing or making spectacle, the artist represents fatness as epistemology. Without our preconceived notions about fatness at the forefront of our minds, could experience fatness in an entirely different, more kind, and soft way?
-Taken from the statement of the artist.
[i] 1Michael Squire, “Fantasies so varied and bizarre: The Domus Aurea, the Renaissance, and the ‘grotesque’,” in M. Dinter and E. Buckley (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to the Age of Nero (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 449.
January 29 - April 4, 2021
My art practice has centered on long-standing concerns related to the human body as a site of fragility, mortality and memory. This exhibition has been inspired by my growing collection of old medical books, mannequins, and anatomical artifacts. After studying the bright colors on the edges of pages in old medical books, I began working from the observation that the interior of the body was evident in both the outside of the books as well as inside. I wet and re-formed these red, pink and yellow colored pages into new medical paper sculptures. In each distinct piece I experimented with the pages to create intricate cross-sections of flesh; sculpting, stacking, and entangling the paper forms, juxtaposing flesh-like colors. Informed by our human relationship to health and wound care, I then tended to these dissected, bruised and scraped sculptural bodily parts: they have been bandaged, braced, and held in place by plaster casts, muscle tape, and metal medical splints. This exhibition suggests we can connect looking inward as a way to expand our perception of the world and the humanity that is around us.
- Cindy Stelmackowich, artist statement
Born in Melville, Saskatchewan in 1967, Cindy Stelmackowich studied both art and science at the University of Saskatchewan due to her interest in both disciplines and their inter-connections. She moved to Ottawa to do a Master’s degree and continues to live there and teach courses at Carleton University. Stelmackowich completed a PhD in the history of art and science in New York state and has conducted research in medical and science archives across Europe. Her work as a researcher, writer, and curator compliments her artistic pursuits. Her artworks are in a number of municipal, university and national art collections, including the Canada Council Art Bank.
The artist would like to thank the Ontario Arts Council and the City of Ottawa for their funding support.