Elaine Healy: The Marriage of Copernicus

Sugar From The Bone, Portland
September 7 - October 3

Anniversary Box (1998),
wood, wax, metal rod

Nicolaus Copernicus, the 15th Century Polish scientist, laid the foundation for modern astronomy by questioning and rejecting the wisdom of the ancients. Most significantly, he displaced man from the centre of the universe.

In her own way, California mixed-media artist Elaine Healy has set out to question, reject and displace societal assumptions about sex, gender and rôle by constructing little models and fetishes in boxes or tableaux (perhaps in the same way that Copernicus hitched up planets, stars and moons to make his point) that speak volumes: even to the otherwise linguistically and visually illiterate.

Healy studied independently with Bay Area ceramic artist Robert Arneson, whose own small objects carried big messages. When Healy came to choose her own messages, they were predominantly concerned with her own evolving feminism. "You do what you know, and I know women," she states.

Healy's figures in wax constantly refer to stereotypes - and stereotypes mean repetition - hence the multiples of female and male forms reiterating the molds from which they have been cast. The molds are shorthand for Copernicus' "wisdom of the ancients" and in Healy's view are metaphors for the cultural conditioning that supposedly makes us uniform "men" and "women."

In "Anniversary Box," 1998, repeated, identical wedding-cake brides and grooms, skewered like shish kebab on a red metal rod are bolted into a very stultifying space. While Healy isn't necessarily condemning the concept of lifelong marriage, she succinctly drives home several other unsettling points. Much of her work examines stereotypical women, and it reads like an overdue and oh-so-satisfying "Rebellion of the Barbie Dolls."

© Ted Lindberg