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Polymorph

Feminist Katya Usvitsky explores "the malleability of the female body" through pervasive pantyhose

by CH Contributor in Design on 12 October 2012

by Janine Stankus

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Pantyhose, nylons, stockings—whatever you call them, if you're a woman you've worn them, and you may well scorn them. Artist Katya Usvitsky casts a long look on this classic undergarment for her upcoming exhibition, "Polymorph," a tactile exploration of the female body.

"Polymorph" began with the suggestive piece, "Daughter," comprising a recessed bunch of stockinged bulbs, and has evolved to include a myriad of evocative forms. "As women we are expected to take on many shapes—partners, lovers, workers, mothers," explains Usvitsky. "With this material I am literally referencing the malleability of the female body and, for one thing, its potential for childbirth." The soft, cellular-looking objects are made from balls of fiber-stuffed nylon sculpted into multiplicitous shapes. Usvitsky's artistic process appropriately mimics biological phenomena—cells dividing then converging to form full organisms. She hand-rolls balls of fiberfill, stuffs the legs and sews sections off piece by piece until the clusters meet. "Connection" is a revealing snapshot of this process at its midway point.

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Stockings primarily interest Usvitsky as an object, she says, is "meant to smooth and restrict, giving the skin a uniform 'nude' look without the reality of bumps and veins." By manipulating the material, she transforms them into something that has quite the opposite effect. The artist began her exploration with store-bought "skin tones" such as Nude, Sun Beige, Tan, Smoke and Bare, though her palette has since exploded to include many bright colors.

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These warm, inviting, yet subtly grotesque figures tackle standards of femininity that have persisted over time despite women's advancement. Usvitsky is completely unabashed about labeling her art—and herself—feminist, a term that she believes women need to reclaim. "'Feminist' has been assigned so many meanings that I think the word itself has basically been diluted to a synonym for 'bitch,'" says Usvitsky. "What feminism is really about, though, is a woman being able to make her own damn decisions, in all aspects of her life. Period." This series in particular stems from Usvitsky's own interpersonal experiences and anxieties. "However, I am interested in creating a universal dialogue about body expectations," she says. "There is a real disconnect between the real and the ideal."

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Organized by independent curator Verrinia Amatulli, "Polymorph" opens this Friday and runs 12 October-4 November 2012 at The One Well in Brooklyn. Specially made jewelry miniatures of Katya's sculptures will also be on sale at the opening. Usvitsky is enthusiastic about showing her work in a non-traditional "salon" type setting that includes curated artisan wares and home goods. "Artwork belongs in our homes and our lives, not just museums an galleries."

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