California College for the Arts (CCA) visiting scholar Julia Bryan-Wilson introduced Session Two at Craft Forward, on Saturday, April 2. The  theme was Body Craft.  She asked:


HOW DO BODIES SHAPE CRAFT?  Bodies shaped by gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc.? 

HOW DOES CRAFT SHAPE BODIES? The physical effort of craft impacts the wrist, a joint, hand, or eye. Craft touches the body, makes it hurt, creates isolation, pain and exploitation.


WHAT ABOUT THE SOCIAL BODY? The body politic, like patriotic sewing circles, or groups united by feminist and queer identitiy.


The BODY CRAFT featured two speakers, Lauren Kalman and Allyson Mitchell, who talked about craft centered around the body.  Both speakers explained their work with a quantity of interesting, shocking, and even funny images.

Before I continue with further commentary, I will share a series of images from the lecture.

Above photos provided by emiko oye were taken during the lecture by Allyson Mitchell. It compares a Playboy bunny type image of the idealized, hairless female body with work by the artist. Her females are the reverse, or inverse with extra "hairy" skin as they are constructed from fuzzy and tacky fabric. (I assume purposely selected to be in poor taste.)  The artists is also talking about the idealized white,  female body.

Above photo by emiko oye taken during  Allyson Mitchell's lecture. Titled "Hungry Purse" it is constructed from found materials, afghans, etc. The assembly of these works (that were often dusty, moldy or mildewy) caused healthy problems from exposure for Allyson Mitchell.

Above photo taken by emiko oye from the lecture by Allyson Mitchell shows the Ladies Sasquatch  2010. The figures were constructed from fake fur. Some are very hairy female figures with a "big bush".  Essentially the smaller animals are a conversation about what are acceptable renderings of women, and the analogy to small cute, fuzzy, adorable, young, animals.

The photo is by emiko oye from the lecture by Laura Kalman. This dental hardware is temporary. Lauren Kalman photographed and video taped the process of "sewing" the pearls into the mouth and around the teeth with wire. However grotesque or beautiful it may be, it is commentary about objects that intersect with the body, objects that define the body. This is one of many pieces of jewelry that were appliances that fit into her mouth. As an artist, she carefully documents the intersection of body and appliance with videos and photos.

"Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellish-
ments": Nevus Comedonicus
Artist: Lauren Kalman, 2009 Photo Source

These small embellishments do actually pierce the skin. They are part of a whole series using acupuncture needles.



This is a more recent piece by Laura Kalman. The small dots do not pierce the skin. It is titled Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments,
(Syphilis) 2009; Ink jet Print  26 x 26.

It is interesting to note that this is not Lauren Kalmans' body and the ornamentation (as a reflection of disease) did not harm the body. Regardless, she felt uncomfortable applying them to another person's body.


What did I learn? 

 I was quite disturbed by a particular aspect of  these lectures and feel compelled to comment further.  

Before continuing,  I would like to clarify here that I am not commenting about whether I like or dislike the work.

My concern is not about artwork that discusses the narrow stereotype of beauty in our culture. I agree with this aspect of the social critique.


When these young women stand on stage, I  am concerned women are role models for other young artists that might copy them. This is all like the myth of the self abusive artist like Van Gogh cutting off your ear because this makes you a great artist.

  The issue is: Why are women allowing their bodies be abused or displayed in such negative and destructive manners? 

I see self inflicted pain and unhealthy behavior in body piercings, through-the-skin stitching of body  adornment, flaunting of an extra 60 to 100 lbs of excess body fat, and unhealthy studio practice.  This is no different than other abusive and destructive behaviors endorsed by fashion such as tanning beds, wearing contortionist corsets or disabling high heels. They are all examples of manipulation of women's bodies by fashion, or art, its all the same.

I felt uncomfortable as a spectator in both lectures of this session.  It was not the strong graphic component or "queer" content. I felt disturbed that by just sitting in the audience I was endorsing this form of inflicting craft or body politic.

LadiesSasquatch  2010 by Allyson Mitchell

Find more information about this work online.

Porky No matter how the manipulation of the female body is justified with intellectual content or being "Pretty Porky and Pissed off",  it isn't healthy. And yes, unhealthy behaviors are my business because every one of us will pay for it with higher health insurance fees. That is my body politic!




What were the thought provoking issues raised? Both speakers identified problems with detrimental consequences of their artistic/crafty exploration.

  Mentrual Hut Cinema 2009
  Artist: Allyson Mitchell

Allyson Mitchell admitted late in the session Q & A that working with fuzzy, dusty, musty, moldy, mildew infested material has caused health problems.


Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other
Dermatological Embellishments
(Syphilis) 2009; Ink jet Print  26 x 26
Artist: Lauren Kalman

Lauren Kalman admitted that she felt uncomfortable applying "beauty patches" to other women. She realized that she could not do to other people what she has done to herself in the name of art or craft.


David Howes (in the previous session at Craft Forward) spoke about the senses. His main theme was that western culture is biased toward the visual, ignoring all other senses. When the senses and the body say "NO", why aren't artists listening?



For women who suffer from self manipulation of their bodies, whether by anorexia, bulimia, cutting, piercing, or weight, it may be because they feel that this is the only thing that they can control. These behaviors exist within all strata of society, but it is not acceptable behavior even if rationalized by intellectual rhetoric.

Kalman_hard_wear1 Despite all the recognition for these two individual artists, should the craft community endorse these self destructive behaviors?  Lauren Kalman has received recognition for early work which was les... Was it necessary to escalate with the more shocking examples involving piercing the body?


Why do some Lesbians use excess weight to create an identity as "porky and pissed off" when it is so self destructive to their health?  This issue deserves more attention than an in-your-face candy heart or artistic construction about body hair.  A healthy body image is achieved by a balance of a healthy diet (not dieting) along with  exercise, not by excessive eating or shaving (or not shaving) your legs.

The body politic has opinions, and this was one of them.


Please decide for yourself and leave a comment. 


Background about the speakers (below).






Lauren Kalman is a visual artist whose practice is invested in installation, video, photography, and performance. Through her work she investigates perspectives of beauty, body image, value, and consumer culture.

Allyson Mitchell's portrait. The web site for Allyson Mitchel is worth looking least the opening page will surprise you.

I recommend looking at "55 things that tried to kill me" especially if you don't have time for exploring her whole web site. This was my favorite work even though she showed only four of the "55 things that tried to kill me."





Fat:The Anthropology of an Obsession with essay by Allyson Mitchell.

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In the very near future, society will begin to fully realize the extent to which these practices degrade, harm and end up costing ALL of society dearly; as with the backlash seen in the fashion/model industry due to the rise in eating disorders and related deaths throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's, we will see society HAVE to tackle this self-mutilative dis-ease of our culture. When it is one apple in the barrel, everyone else turns the other way; spoil the barrel and suddenly people will pay attention and take a stance, make a move, protest, ask for sanity to return. I suggested to my teenager that a thriving career move would be plastic surgery repair. It IS all about control. Humans are a pretty intriguing and disturbing species...that won't ever change. Throughout history, titillation is the norm.
Readers of this review can read emiko oye's photo essay of Body Craft on Crafthaus called Body Craft - "Is it Gross or Beautiful?"


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