Brooklyn-based artist Erica Magrey played with notions of feminism and femininity in “She Unlimited,” her recent solo show at 106 Green Gallery, a one-room artist-run Greenpoint apartment space. Paintings, videos, 3-D-printed sculptures and photographs all shared a pastel bravura. Memorabilia of female empowerment surfaced in novel ways. Lilac and salmon squiggles shimmied on canvases while actresses with shoulder pads and arms akimbo grinned, swayed and posed on luminescent screens, reenacting the sassy confidence popularized by female icons of the 1980s and ’90s. Paintings and gridded photographic prints catalogued tchotchkes and artifacts of the era, exhibiting the influence of material culture on the construction of femininity.
Women and products figure side by side in the HD video piece VISTAS (Wider Field of Vision), 2015, originally commissioned for the online art platform NewHive. The women, shown individually and in groups, pose and interact with the products and with each other in the work’s various segments—each of which features smaller screens dotting the bigger screen like multiple browser windows. On NewHive, each segment has its own page, which bears the name of a character, distinguished by her garments and gestures, as a URL extension; in the gallery, the segments were distributed across several monitors.
In “Aurelie,” a young woman in a shoulder-padded suit caresses a loudly ticking triangular clock, rocks her hips and touts the exaggerated smile of a TV-commercial actress trying too hard. Most disconcerting is the familiarity of these stylized poses—blank stare, wide-eyed fascination and feigned surprise. On a screen below, the woman juts out her hip while “making a muscle,” winking as she squeezes a bicep clad in a gauzy sleeve. She feminizes traditional symbols of strength, power and masculinity, claiming them as her own with levity and play. Even while Magrey employs starkly gendered items, like makeup and floral-printed clothes, her women exhibit toughness and irony. In “Doreen,” another segment of the work, a woman poses beside an eye-shadow compact as one might beside a trophy. In “Kate,” a dancing woman pores over a book called You Don’t Need a Man to Fix It: A Woman’s Guide to Home Repair.
The dated objects and fashions in Magrey’s layered narratives contrast with the contemporary technologies she employs: HD video and 3-D printing (the latter used to produce busts of one of the women shown in the video vignettes). The recurring motif of the paint squiggle in both the video piece and the paintings mimics the loud prints of the era, but also suggests a digitization of the artist’s hand.
The dusty ephemera that crowd secondhand-shop shelves star in Magrey’s photographs and paintings. Her visual vocabulary extends from mugs to seashells, gold hoop earrings to folded paper fans. These objects line pink contact sheets in digital prints such as Prop Contact 1 and Prop Contact 2 (both 2014). The presentation transforms them from mere kitsch to fetishized artifacts.
Beyond Magrey’s material focus lies a canny reinterpretation—and rejection—of traditional femininity in pop culture. The artist reveals the social construction of gender conventions from an era that told women they could have it all. She emphasizes the limitations of the reflection afforded by the mirror of a compact or a curio cabinet, allowing viewers to see beyond ingrained stereotypes about gender, media and selfhood.