Despite a dim awareness of our own subjectivity, the individual reality that belongs to each of us is experienced as concrete and self-evident. I am interested in the moment when the self-evidence of our own experiences is challenged by confrontation with the other, the infinity of realities that exist outside of our own.
I attempt to make performative objects that address the ways in which social meaning is projected onto the forms of the body. I manipulate anatomical signifiers of gender, race, age, and other identity characteristics to encourage viewers to confront their feelings about normalcy, difference, and what defines human. By creating a tension between the intellectual reality of the static object and the emotional drama of exaggerated expressions I hope to imply the self-consciousness and artifice that are present both in formal theatre/cinema and in our everyday projections of our selves.
My work bridges contemporary conceptual and narrative concerns with certain elements of sculptural tradition to question both our current constructions of identity as they relate to the body and the manner in which these are connected to a historically informed sense of self.
anne drew potter
There is something about the tension of the gaze, the way one looks upon another, the manner by which we interact, judge, critique, engage.
It would be easy to say that the world of Anne Drew Potter is a corpus of the grotesque, the body writ absurd, a parlance that belies our spectacular interest in the freakish, but such a reading would disserve the complexity that lies within her work. True enough, on the surface there is a lurid fascination with the way we "look," used operatively as a verb ("I look at the object") and as an ontology ("how do I look?"), manifested by the tense qualities of Potter's sculptural installations: a figure of a seven-foot adolescent girl with the belly of an obese middle-aged man, satin-harnessed to eight smaller, similarly physiqued 'girl-children'; or a simple/playful rabbit figure of a stuffed-toy quality surrounded and stared down in judgement by three gargoyle-ish figures apparently intent on simultaneously possessing and destroying the subject of their derision. But installations such as "Fecundity: Safety in Numbers" and "The Judgment of Br'er Rabbit" are steeped in attempts to both address and redress social tensions of the body.
Potter engages the viewer with large questions: how is the body supposed to look (again, in both senses of the word), and how do we catch ourselves looking? Her work crosses thresholds of identity, whether it is gender, transgender, racialization, or other formations of self and other. She admits that her fascination is with the 'aberrant' body and how it is located, socially and politically, mostly through a constructed gaze. Such an interest locates itself in her installations, sometimes disturbing and always challenging, manipulating viewers into positioning themselves alongside the figures: are we part of them, or are they part of us? By using a three-dimensional form, Potter takes these figures both into a 'real' and an 'unreal' space, making them a force with which the viewers must contend. We walk in and amongst these figures, watch both their gaze and the object of their gaze, wonder if we might cast ourselves as both the lookers and the looked upon. It is an unsettling process, but a fertile one. For if we can allow ourselves such discomfiture - in a sense, step outside of ourselves and feel the newness of that 'look'- then we can allow ourselves to see not just a different world but to see a world differently.
Potter says she wants to create a sense of space that is nonconfrontational but not 'watered down,' that is, made perfectly palatable. The uneasiness instilled through her installations are, in fact, mental landscapes as they allow us to explore emotional and psychological realities from which we might otherwise 'protect' ourselves. But the crass fact is that these elements of the different, the strange, the grotesque, are not at all what they seem. Rather, in a macabre "Madame Bovary, c'est moi" manner, we are forced to relate to these figures, to the installations, not as the amorphous and perhaps extant 'Other,' but as integral, however hidden or denied, to the Self. It is this eventual realization that creates an awareness of the actual delight and aesthetic thrill of Potter's work, moved past first blush from a space away, to a space inside.
Ashok Mathur, 2008
Constructing the Queer Body
The sculptural work of anne drew potter negotiates new subjectivities, bodies, and identities, as such exploring contemporary means of representing queerness. Age, gender, identity, sexuality and subjectivity are constructed as always under contestation, unstable and problematic. at the same time, potter's works also imagine identity as multiple, changeable and contingent, rather than stable, fixed and innate. transgressing the boundaries of the natural and the normal, the bodies of nena and my sister and i (Identification with the Aggressor) question our understandings of the human and the possible.
potter's works explore the intricacies and complexities of gender and sexuality by revising the ways in which we imagine the human body. These works confound our expectations by multiplying the ways in which the embodied figure may be represented. Investigating notions of gender outside the confines of the binary distinctions between self and other, man and woman, inside and outside, potter's work constructs the body, identity, and sexuality beyond their configurations as eminently definable categories. Playing with ideas of age, these bodies also question matters of human development and maturation, adolescence and adulthood. Blurring the lines of age and maturation via bodily changes and transformations, these works ask how we construct out bodies as aged entities. at the same time, however, these works also encourage us to explore the ways in which our bodies can be envisioned outside the normal and the normative. How might we imagine our own bodies as deformed, disturbed, elongated, unnatural?
At first glance, one might not immediately grasp the complexity of the sisters' elongated limbs, or the impossibility of nena's bodily contortions. But it is precisely these works' ability to engage us via these often subtle differences and variations of the human form that is so intriguing. These bodies play with notions of the abject, divisibility and indivisibility, while at the same time refusing to make such distinctions within the bodily forms themselves. The works ask us if we define gender identity via a pronounced hip or an upturned lip, a grasped hand or an aggressive stance. How do emotionality and the senses play into how we construct the gendered body? How can embodiment imagined and envisioned as embodiment be considered in and through representation as such? how does the representation of the body as an object veiled in mystery, distortion, and uncertainty further complicate our understandings of the body as a whole?
Moreover, the expressions and contortions of these bodies even beyond their formal construction elicit an emotional response. one feels the urgency of the limbs, the possibility and impossibility of movement, the desiring force behind each muscle within. Potter's work is both fascinating and disconcerting, alluding to the aggression and the vulnerability of her figures as well as the complexity of the human experience. Enwrapping her bodies with the unknown and the unknowable enables them to further expound on the difficulties of defining truth, knowledge, and desire while at the same time investigating the nature of the embodied form itself.
Sarah E. S. Sinwell, PhD, 2006
The Thin Line of Embodiment
Given the centrally important role they play in our lives, it is actually sort of astounding how inaccessible and unfamiliar our bodies are to us. For example, most of us will never directly observe the inside of our own body because it is virtually impossible for us to do so, except in very limited ways. We may sense our interior, of course, often in the form dull, menacing aches or a grumbling, upset stomach that petitions for redress. But we seldom get a good look inside. And even when we do—say, in the form of an X-ray—what we discover there is something that seems alien and largely unrecognizable.
Given this fact, it would obviously be nice to think that we know our exteriors somewhat better. In truth, however, we occupy the least privileged vantage point from which to view our bodies, and some even go so far as to say ourselves. Hence our incredible reliance upon one another when figuring out who and what we are in the world. Hence Virginia Woolf’s famous claim that “there is a spot the size of a shilling at the back of one’s head which one can never see for oneself. It is one of the good offices that sex can discharge for sex,” she contended, “to describe that spot…”
We live, when all is said and done, like thin lines of consciousness and sensitivity drawn delicately between the inside and outside of bodies we scarcely know. And remarkably, probably as a matter of sheer necessity, we do this naturally, as if there were nothing odd, or alienating, or discomfiting about it. Throughout her short but eventful career anne drew potter has made it her business as an artist to remind us that having a body—that being a body—is odd, and alienating, and discomfiting. Specifically, potter’s work draws out attention to the body’s social and cultural contingency by showing us in ways that are sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing, but always arresting, that embodiment, like so many things in life, happens somewhere in between—between inside and outside; between male and female; between black and white; between old and young.
On the most basic level potter’s work undermines such simplistic binaries by demonstrating in powerfully realized forms what the human body might be were it to be released from them. In a more subtle and unexpected sense, however, her work also points to what the body already is for most people: necessarily less than ideal, beautiful but abject, damaged but alluringly animate, labored and laboring—a site, in short, where identity is constantly negotiated and renegotiated, produced and reproduced, rather than a site of “self-evidence” where aspects of personhood such as race and gender are simply resolved in some final and irreducible way.
Put differently, potter’s sculptures compel us to ask explicit questions about bodies—questions to which perceptual habit and social convention normally provide seemingly workable but ultimately dissatisfying answers. Is that a sculpture of a male or female figure? Is he or she young or old, black or white, in pleasure or in pain, malevolent or beneficent? Given how animated potter’s figures always are, there is never any doubt that such aspects of identity or experience are made manifest in them. But the question—the crucial question—is always the question of which ones are manifested there. To her credit, the answer that potter’s figures almost always provide is “yes,” an answer which, appropriately and provocatively, is really no answer at all.
From a conceptual perspective, of course, potter’s intention is never to misrepresent stone cold ambiguity as a solution to the sexism, racism, ageism, and homophobia she abhors. That would be easy, but it would also be naďve. Rather, the point of potter’s work is to force viewers into the position of having to be explicit and suddenly aware of the manner in which they make sense through and around bodies and, by doing so, to force some recognition that historically loaded characteristics such as age, race and sex always define our relation to one another in advance, no matter how sincerely we might wish to disavow their significance
This is not an effect that is easily accomplished. Doing so requires incredible technical skill and an uncompromising attention to detail, both of which potter demonstrates in abundance. But most of all it requires conviction, and no small amount of courage. For as it turns out most of us are made exceedingly uncomfortable by bodies, and not least of all by our own.
Colin R. Johnson, PhD, 2011