Jennifer Ling Datchuk: Truth Before Flowers
At Women & Their Work thru July 25, 2019
Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s current show Truth Before Flowers at Women & Their Work is a reckoning of womanhood. Born in Ohio and raised in Brooklyn, Datchuk’s multicultural heritage — her mother is from China while her father is of Russian and Irish descent — seeps into the work in this exhibition. Looking through the lens of her unique background, the artist questions femininity and women’s societal role through her art.
Organizing her show in two distinct categories, objects of girlhood and objects of womanhood, the artist displays a myriad of items that she has either found or made by hand. Porcelain is Datchuk’s material of choice that references not only its history as servingware, but also its many “dualities…of fragility, resilience, and the struggle between diversity and the flawless white body.” “Don’t Play Nice” is one work from the girlhood section that at first seems like a sweet ceramic object; but, after closer inspection and reading the title, you realize its true magnitude. The small work is a porcelain megaphone sitting on a saucer covered in traditional blue and white painting. The piece is reminiscent of a cheerleader’s megaphone used to call out spirited chants at sporting events — but Datchuk has flipped that idea on its head. Instead, she uses the megaphone as a metaphor to tell girls and women to raise their voices and stand together in formation against those who want to silence them.
Moving from girlhood to womanhood, the work in the show takes on stronger, more topical themes. One of the most visually evocative works is “One Tough Bitch,” a photograph of the artist’s stomach with shards of painted porcelain placed atop. Referencing the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which is the method of repairing broken pottery with seams of gold, the porcelain scraps are placed along a scar on Datchuk’s abdomen as if they are filling in and mending her broken body. Kintsugi is prized for its unique deformities and considers the breakage and repair as a part of the history of the object, rather than something to hide. As the title aptly connotes, “One Tough Bitch” is a profound reminder to women to not only be kind to their bodies but proud of them as well.
In the center of the gallery is a small sanctuary space called “Babe Cave” that invites the viewer into a tent of faux blue hair in which sits a table with garden stools. The table (titled “How I came to my table”) is made of porcelain painted in white with a myriad of symbolic blue drawings festooning it. The drawings depict images of uteruses, halves of peaches, chrysanthemum blooms, and the Venus of Willendorf. Sitting down to the table shrouded in blue light, the space becomes a refuge for people to contemplate silently or to have meaningful dialogue. It is a truly otherworldly site to encounter. Datchuk’s works are suffused with multiple meanings that allow the viewer to slowly and precisely unpack each like unpacking a tea cup from its wrappings. Though the tea cup may seem fragile, it is ultimately resilient… similar to the character of a woman.
**To learn more about the artist and her practice, read this informative interview with her and artist Elizabeth Chapin.
I think the deepest cultural reference besides the Venus of Willendorf, is the white and blue porcelain china. In the 19th and 20th centuries in North America it was called “Blue Willow,” with always the same design. Part of the stylized willow tree can be seen on the megaphone in your first photo above, along with the stereotypical pagoda to one side. Archeologists date historical sites and artif
Comment boxes too small? –act scatters with single sherds of Blue Willow. Farther back, the porcelain was derived from Delft China in the Netherlands. Merchants there imported blue and white porcelain by shiploads from China. Datchuk’s preferred material is a deep heritage reference indeed.