American, born 1955
Of the Beasts, 2007
Wood, glass taxidermy eyes, paint, and steel
68 x 18 x 18 inches (172.7 x 45.7 x 45.7 cm)
Gift of A. Conger Goodyear, by exchange, 2010
Erika Wanenmacher creates incredibly intricate, handmade sculptures and installations that are often self-referential and employ a language that, she has commented, "investigates the conflicts between nature and culture." A large portion of the artist’s work also explores her current surroundings and the "atomic" narrative that is an integral component of New Mexico history. Wanenmacher's practice is unusual, as she does not confine her work to specific materials. Instead, all of her work is guided by the principles of alchemy. She often seeks out materials—including wood, steel, aluminum, sand, glass, video, and even found objects such as a Volvo—that fit her needs and the idea she wants to execute. This directly relates to a concept that is the core of her artistic practice, which is a belief in the object's "unlimited possibilities for change and remediation." About her creative process and the relationship she envisions between her practice as both an artist and witch, Wanenmacher says: "I realized that these pieces I do are spells. They’re about magic and changing consciousness. The classic definition of magic is 'changing consciousness at will.' If, as an artist, I can get people to see my vision, I've changed their consciousness. That's magic."
Of the Beasts, 2007, is a remarkable example of Wanenmacher's approach to artmaking. The figurative basis for the work, a full-body CT scan, comes to life through a series of handcrafted steps, which is consistent with the artist’s practice and belief that craftsmanship is never secondary to concept. From the carving to the detailed inlay of taxidermy animal eyes in the surface of the figure, no detail is ignored. Aside from the craftsmanship behind the work, its conceptual basis reflects Wanenmacher's interest in the natural world and our role within it. The title Of the Beasts references animal goddesses, but Wanenmacher has also called this work "Skyclad," which refers to a magical Pagan/Wiccan nude ritual performed under the stars. According to the artist, "both titles relate to the ecstatic experience of being in 'peak experience'"—a state of universal consciousness "traditionally compared to a mind full of light, like the moon in a cloudless sky or a mirror without any dust on it." Simply put, this work depicts the artist in her own conceived moment of perfection within the natural world. All-knowing and all-seeing: she is at one with nature.
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