bioephemera

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PMS Quilt, 2008
hand embroidered and crocheted pantyliners
Laurel Roth

Yes, that is just what it says it is: a collection of pantyliners embroidered with profanity.

One thing is clear about artist Laurel Roth: she is not afraid to make viewers uncomfortable. Her series “Hope Chest” is constructed of hygenic accessories embroidered with “off-kilter reflections on biology, fertility, and the ever-changing roles of women” – like the f-word. Embellished with beads, rose thorns, and crochet, the embroideries are twee, kitschy decor – or they would be, if not for their bluntly worded messages.


Here, surrounded by blood-red crochet, like a metastasizing, angry menstrual doily, “fuck” mutates through various fonts, sizes and intensities until it almost loses meaning:

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PMS Quilt
(detail)
, 2007

In “Hope Chest,” stereotypes of women’s sexuality, chemical birth control, and traditional “woman’s work” like crochet and beading are jumbled up in a deeply conflicted representation of what it is to be female. But since none of the materials are genuinely biological – the only “blood” here is symbolic red thread – the confusion remains on a cerebral level, detached from the body. That may be the point: we concentrate so hard on sanitizing and homogenizing our bodies, we run the risk of not recognizing what they’re saying to us, no matter how violent it may be.

Roth seems fascinated with the way we use pharmacology to alter ourselves. Her PMS quilt, for example, invites viewers to reflect on the way PMS has evolved into a defined, clinical condition ripe for pharmacological suppression. In Roth’s version of America, the formal dining rooms would have hypodermic chandeliers, and – as in her installation “Pharmacopeia” – medicine cabinets become “the planes of heaven, hell, and earth. . . the garden of Eden flourishes amidst the toothpaste tubes and hemorrhoid ointment of daily life.”

Roth’s work peels back tranquilized, quotidian middle class life to reveal its fleshy, “natural” underside – and that goes for the animals in our lives as well. Love dogs? Then her series of highly polished purebred dog skull sculptures may enchant you – or make you wince:

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Man’s Best Friend – Chihuahua, 2007
hand carved and polished acrylic, base (not shown) walnut, swarovski crystal, aluminum

This is a little weird because we’re not used to seeing our pets mounted and displayed like hunting trophies or artifacts; one might also observe that, apart from the sentimental issue, purebred dogs are already a trophy/status symbol, such that a heavy crystal chihuahua skull is, well, redundant.

Finally, Roth’s “Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons” are an even more absurd play on creature comforts and biological interchangeability: “fascinated with women’s traditional use of fiber-craft to provide safety and comfort, I have been crocheting small suits for urban pigeons that disguise them as extinct birds, thereby (visually) re-creating biodiversity and soothing environmental fears.” She puts a cute spin on it – but actually, Roth’s work is the very opposite of soothing. And I think she likes it that way.

Roth is represented by Chicago’s Packer Schopf gallery, among others. In 2009, she exhibited “Hope Chest” at the International Museum of Surgical Science’s great series Anatomy in the Gallery.