Artillery December 2006
Carlee Fernandez Talks About the New Beast in Her Art
In keeping with Darwinism, Carlee Fernandez went from animal to man. And in keeping with Freud, man is Daddy. The artist best known for her sculptures made from dead animals, has now turned to dead heroes, specifically men, oh and one very live one, her dad. As a woman artist, she makes no excuses for worshiping men, and only men, and probably suffers from a little penis envy. If only she could grow a, uh, mustache.
We met at her studio in Montecito Heights, where she greeted me with her rescued German Shepard companion. After giving me a tour of the immaculate house she shares with boyfriend Dave Lovering, drummer from the Pixies, we went to the bottom level where her studio was. I prepared myself for a creepy furry den filled with animal skins, but the only carcasses were two bears stuffed in a bin. She offered me a diet coke and we sat down for business.
She explained how her newest series, “Man”, starting off the fall season at Acuna-Hansen, was much more nerve-racking than her last solo show where she showed photographs of her nude body posed with a black bear carcass. First off, there was no taxidermy and that was a surprise to the viewers and perhaps a disappointment to her furry groupies. This is a new direction for Fernandez which she enters with trepidation.
Her new series revolves around her father and other male relationships such as boyfriends and male idols. She’s very close to her family, yet distanced enough to develop them in her art. She considers her mother a “silent collaborator” in her “Bear” series, where mom took photos of her daughter with the bear carcass. And her father features prominently in her newest work.
She reflects on her parents’ influence in her art: “He [her father] was always a very positive figure in my life and he also had his raw sense of humor; he really loved horror films. That really infiltrated my work, like this fake goriness. My mother had a very strong sense of herself and a kinda twisted sense of humor where…. this one story just really says it. My mom went to the farmer’s market and got a pig’s head. And put a pig’s head in the stroller, and put a bonnet on it and walked it down the street. Those two people for parents, okay, it just gets you going.”
Fernandez talks about her parents’ divorce and how her mom remained a strong force, but then she struggles a bit with her words and becomes almost confessional, “I just really have like a uh, envy for males. I don’t think it’s bad, I just think that…. “ She hesitated a bit. “Envy like it’s a man’s world?” I suggested. “Maybe a little, but this is who I am and ya know, you work with what you have.”
Fernandez continued. “The people I’ve always looked up to have always been males. I’ve always felt more in tune with them. And I also think that they are the more beautiful of the sexes. She pointed out how the male is the more attractive sex in the animal kingdom. “In our society, it’s the female that’s the more beautiful where I think it’s more males. They grow gracefully, and age nicely where women are like wearing makeup.” She laughs and makes a face, mimicking smearing makeup on her fresh youthful makeupless face.
Being a woman, I felt I need to stand up for my sex. Afterall, what’s so wrong with being a female? Especially when you ARE a female? Fernandez repeated herself. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. As much as I wanna say, I’m one of the boys on the boys team, I’m still a female. Definitely by making this work, I felt more masculine. But in the same way, it’s like giving them the masculinity, and then pulling out the rug from underneath them in a way, because it’s done by a female.
But what about her last series “Bear,” where she poses nude inside a black bear carcass, exposing half of her body? And some of the poses even seemed cheese-cakey, maybe even sexy? Isn’t that an acknowledgement of womanhood, even celebrating the female? She did admit they might be a little erotic. After all, her wearing a bear head with her bare breasts can’t be anything but, right? It was a matter of showing off different poses that showed the human form off the best, and the animal,” she rebutted. “It could come off as sexual, but that was not my intention. It could be sexual, because it’s the human form. And to me, there is something sexual just being an animal. Something like being more raw with your instincts, in that sort of sense it could be sexual.”
“I find this work very therapeutic. There’s always been a very heavy-handed masculine side [to her work], okay, so now, I’ve swapped out this animal for a man in a way, and I feel like I have a lot more directions to go with. I felt like I was kinda pigeon-holing myself with the taxidermy.” Pardon the pun?
Fernandez and I practically had a Barbara Walters moment then. I think I even nodded my head a couple of times. She talked about her life at 33: boyfriends, relationships, Dad, growing up, a recent break-up. How unsettling, yet deeply liberating and gratifying her new is for her. Everything seemed profoundly emotional.
Then she explained how she approached the whole idea of using animals. “My pure interest in taxidermy is it’s hollow form. It was cutting open this hollow form and what was I going to fill it with, jam it with, or how was I going to transform it. That same interest, I think, is in the rabbit piece too. Here you have this animal, and it’s just stuffed with stuff and how could you reuse it and form it into something new.” She’s referring to the video in “Man”, where she guts a white rabbit and uses the entrails to spell out the first part of her first boyfriend’s name.
I couldn’t help but think of what she just said was a metaphor for herself and her new direction in her art, or even a lot of artists for that matter. Fernandez has all this stuff that needs to get reused, and her new series without the taxidermy is just being formed into something new. Animal to man. Woman to man. Artist to man. In Carlee Fernandez’s world, it’s a man’s world.