“What kickstarted my playground was a search for joy.”
How much my seven-year-old self would revel in “Composed Under Compression” at Baby Blue Gallery. She would want to gently pull down “Alb of Naked Truths” from the wall and put it on. Then she’d crawl, with all of the excess fabric folding and bunching around her knees and she’d sit two feet away from the bloated column, “Ionic Order Disorder” (2022), which presents a video: “Episodes of Ritual Play” (2022). Gently quelled by the humanoid column dancing joyfully and nonsensically on the monitor, she would quietly play by herself. “Episodes of Ritual Play” is a looping video that documents the artist in black tights: sliding, rolling, doing knee bends, and embracing the tube-ish shape that her body has shifted into by wearing “Pontifical Cocoon for Ritualistic Joy” (2021) and though it’s incredibly silly, it is also remarkably soothing.
“Composed Under Compression” feels like playful, gleeful and quick-witted recovery theater. Cat Bowyer successfully plays out her memories in a fantastically uneasy and candied satire of the patriarchal Catholic upbringing she remembers. In an exchange with Cat via email, she describes how children use mimicry in play to understand their world, and she is thoroughly motivated by this psychology. She says that in nature, mimicry is a survival mechanism. This lens allows her to appropriate Catholic icons, found in nearly every object in the exhibition, but most visible in “Sacred Grounding” (2022), “Alb of Naked Truths” (2021), “The Naked Truths” (2021) and several quirky tufted columns such as “Mimesis I and II” (2022). These columns are mostly tufted with white yarn, with black and grey outlines. They have an intentionally clumsy presence that works to eradicate any potential column-esque stuffiness. This appropriation transports the viewer to a time when they themselves played through their experience of the world they had no part in choosing.
Bowyer’s exhibition sits in the tradition of womanist art practices that use “craft” objects to subvert or deflate oppressive patriarchal systems. The statement for the show cites Louise Bourgeois’ famous Femme Maison series, a collection of works illustrating the artist’s displeasure at the responsibility of raising her children and how it took away from her practice—a sentiment still relevant for some parenting artists. Bowyer’s work isn’t as begrudged as Bourgeois—it’s perhaps more of a testament to fun and play as a way to respond healthily to an ever-changing world; as children do.
The emotional depth and volume presented in this show is palpable. But more importantly, it’s fun as hell. There are tufted representations of bodies stuffed or sneakily playing inside of columns. Pink rugs lie on the floor, the size of a welcome mat. Columns are seen doing back-bends and cartwheels. There is a stack of small handmade coloring books. As loaded as Cat Bowyer’s “Composed Under Compression” is, it’s also weighted with the energy and creative zeal of someone who simply loves making things.
Many artists spend a great deal of time trying tirelessly to escape what we are taught about art, what it means to make art, and how we are supposed to perform artistic productivity. I’d like to congratulate Cat for allowing me to gleefully remember where I found safety and joy in my own play as a child, and how those habits evolved and grew with me over time. (Megan Bickel)
“Cat Bowyer: Composed Under Compression” is on view at Baby Blue Gallery, 2233 South Throop, Room 518, through June 25.