Review: Marissa Matthies "Anatomy of Autonomy"

Opening April First Friday at the Texas Tech Satellite Gallery was Marissa Matthies’ Texas Tech thesis exhibition, “Anatomy of Autonomy”, which culminates her work in the Jewelry and Metalsmithing MFA program at TTU. Her exhibition statement, spelled in a serif font burned into a sheet of leather gives introduction to a remarkably cerebral jewelry exhibition. Some of the knitted (or is it crocheted?) pieces are hung from the wall, and some are hung from translucent nylon line from the ceiling. Matthies encourages viewers to touch the jewelry, wear it, and see themselves wearing it in the mirrors lining one of the gallery’s walls. The works’ shape ensures they remain unencumbered by connotation, since they don’t clearly resemble common objects (jewelry objects or otherwise); put differently, they are not a version of something recognizable. They’re not without suggestion, though. Medical gauze, headband, garter, tiara, and sash are all suggested by these wearable forms. As Matthies intends, they elicit recognition of classically feminine adornment, while being made from generally ‘masculine’ materials—copper, aluminum, leather. In this thoughtfully constructed absence of direct association, the pieces can be extensions of their wearers.

If a viewer donned what was clearly a tiara or clearly a sash, the identity associated with it (royal or pageant winner) would project itself onto the viewer. As it is, though, a vaguely feminine form made from a vaguely masculine material can be an extension of the body, implicitly adding to the wearer’s identity without dictating what addition was made. So subtle an expression of bodily extension and identity through jewelry does not demand that it “investigates and debates this dichotomy of [bodily identity] control”, as Matthies suggests in her exhibition statement. It does initiate an ambitious combination of art and jewelry; I think a clumsy term for this could be meta-art or meta-jewelry. It allows the viewer to see on themselves what they could in a work of abstraction on the wall, removing a step usually necessary to art (thus the meta-). An untethered addition to your own view of yourself is an addition whose interpretation is both completely arbitrary and largely out of your control—your subconscious is going to do something with it, probably without your permission. Matthies’ incisive apprehension of this has led to an exceptional exhibition.

What Matthies presents to the viewer is devoid of “message” as usually understood—it doesn’t assert or even imply. It presents an alternate reality having something to do with our own. This something comes into relief in being isolated from the rest of ‘normal’ reality. The work is then free to change our vision of the something through the alternate world the artist has created.

*The author's opinions are his own.

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