Emily Furr at Sargent's Daughters
The cultural norms and traditions of our world has been defined for thousands of years by patriarchal systems of power. This visual world is no different, which if we follow Freudian symbolism, includes the prominent use of the phallus throughout art and architecture. However, in a new exhibition called Mother Lode at Sargent’s Daughters in New York, Emily Furr’s paintings subvert these power dynamics embedded in the aesthetic lexicon.
Yoni is a central focus for Furr in all of these works. Rather than employing the phallus in a serious manner, she only uses it as a foil for yonic imagery. As noted in the press release, Furr sees the phallus as something imbued with violence and physical strength, but yoni is much like “the sublime, and the cosmic void.” While the phallus may represent power, it is a power of surface-level bravado. However, yoni is something altogether more enigmatic and all-encompassing.
With all of this in mind, it is easy to see Furr’s point of view in her surreal compositions. Often showing yonic imagery, both independently and interacting with phallic objects and shapes, Furr creates the mood that she describes in her press release: these are strange paintings that definitely carry a sense of mystery. For example, Double Barrel shows a starry abyss behind the muzzles of a shotgun, yet a tongue hangs suggestively out of one barrel. Another, Hole Glory, shows a phallic object (almost blimp-like) penetrating a red ring, yet it almost appears that the ring is clutching on and stopping this thing in its tracks. Burst Bond is particularly compelling, which shows a chain being broken atop a deep shade of red. Yet instead of solid metal, it almost appears if it has a hollow red interior.
After viewing these works, one can begin to notice twists on the history and roles of femininity. When depicted by Furr, phallic objects are vulnerable, whereas anything to do with femininity has power. Burst Bond chain depicts yonic imagery as the literal breaking point for a chain. Steel Pulse shows a rotary blade hovering between a red rod, as if it could spin off at any second.
Along with symbolism, scale and technique play a major role, too. All of these paintings are extremely small in scale and tightly controlled. Although not noted, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Furr made these choices as a rejection of the brashness and monumentality often favored by male artists. Her work is certainly powerful enough that it doesn’t need to span ten feet across a wall and shout at the viewer.
Emily Furr rarely exhibits, and this show is actually her first solo debut. It’s a real shame because this is not only an exhibition that was strange and wonderful, but also one that was remarkably intelligent. Hopefully, more shows will follow Mother Lode because her work and her concepts are deeply compelling.