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Allyson Mitchell - Furry Crits

Category: Portrait 12. May 2010

Allyson Mitchell's activist art is meant to prod and provoke, but it draws you in with warmth, sincerity and just a little faux-fur.

In Allyson Mitchell’s world, art isn’t precious or formal. In fact, you can touch it, feel it, and sometimes even walk on it. Take off your shoes in her Brooklyn, NY studio at the ISCP→ International Studio & Curatorial Program toe your way across a patchwork quilt of crocheted pot holders, toilet seat covers, blankets and you quickly become part of her signature installation in-progress

“Hungry Purse; The Vagina Dentata in Late Capitalism”.

Which is exactly the idea. The Toronto native wants you to be comfortable with her radical, provocative works. Mitchell uses grandmotherly softness, faux fur, warm 60’s and 70’s hues, and familiar objects to entice hesitant viewers to contemplate edgy themes related to lesbianism, nudity, feminism, and fatness.

“Hungry Purse” is, in-fact, a gigantic vulva crafted from thrift store finds and sewn together with rough “Franken-stitch” strokes. “It’s not beautiful work, and I don’t want it to be,” says Mitchell. But there’s something undoubtedly becoming about the kaleidoscopic colors that clash with crude, undulating textures. The multifaceted artist, who works in sculpture, film, music, and installation, spends tedious, solitary sweat-shop hours on her hands and knees, watching television sitcoms on her laptop and piecing together art that both challenges and honors themes that are very personal to her.

Raised in a prototypical, middle-class Canadian W.A.S.P. family, Mitchell began to craft as an outlet as she earned a Masters in women’s studies (she now has a PhD). At university, the queer and fat activist was ‘blown away’ by feminist theory. But she was also disappointed by how inaccessible it was to the general public and she resolved to realize feminist ideas in ways that made people feel smart rather than dumb. The result: towering, thoughtful, direct art you can feel—both physically and emotionally. (ul)

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