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by Elenore Welles

“The Kiss,” mixed media,
25 x 38 x 160”, 1999.


"Veiled Promises,"
24 cast units/antique
hospital bed/monitor/ 8mm
color film/roses, 1998.
Work in progress.


"Pearl," mixed media,
34 x 30 x 96", 1998.
Work in progress.

"True," sleeping bag/earphones
/audio/aluminum apparatus,
19 x 30 x 92", 1998.
Work in progress.

(Sherry Frumkin Gallery, Santa Monica) Multimedia installations are geared toward involving viewers in a total experience, allowing time to linger and ponder the message. Susan Hornbeak-Ortiz’s installations and sculptures have much to convey. Using industrial castoffs mixed with domestic materials, her intriguing new works explore how internal and external worlds collide and interact. Highly personal as well as universal struggles to survive the impacts of those collisions are expressed through an epistemology that is rooted in feminist dictum.

She follows in the notable footsteps of feminist artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Ana Mendieta and others who paved the way. It is paradoxical that her satirical and sometimes ominous use of industrial products, as well as her penchant for diverse activity, harken back to the likes of the Surrealists, Dadaists and assemblagists who were, for the most part, male.

The fundamental difference that separates her from her male predecessors is subject matter. Hornbeak-Ortiz’s transformation of objects from an industrial culture in a post industrial age signals the ideological throwbacks she deals with: Domesticity, stereotyping, oppression--issues that don’t go away. The complex roles of women, their struggle to survive through adversity and their constant reaching for beauty is her recurrent theme. Gritty realities are juxtaposed with tender dreams and longings as she carries the mundane into the realm of the obscure. Immediate reality such as current feminist Zeitgeist is evoked through composite environments that include sculpture, video, audio, text and poetry. By providing a total sensory experience, she takes us beyond the boundaries of the past.

In her droll installation My Life as a Vacuum (the title being a not so subtle clue) she contrasts a homespun existence with struggles encountered in the outer world. The work consists of 300 yards of flexible black tubing attached to a small monitor on a cart. The sound of pigs grunting emanates from the machine. The film on the monitor shows a forming hurricane in vivid blue. A case could be made for the cliched domestic grind as opposed to a stormy external world.

Veiled Promises evokes a more plaintive tone. The installation is based on the life of Saint Teresa of Lisieux (1873-1897), a holy woman who died a painful early death. It consists of 24 clear cast figures that represent each year of her life. They surround a child’s hospital bed that has a colored monitor embedded within it. Above the grouping, an apparatus drops a few rose petals every hour or so. By the end of the 30 days, there will be a pile of red roses at her feet. A film depicts a dream imagery of red roses, pink feathers and toddler’s legs. The audio is of a child’s laughter and a whispered prayer. The piece speaks of sacrifice, love and a legacy of beauty.

Back on the domestic scene, The Kiss evinces an inescapable metaphor. It consists of a 9” television on a cart pulling a kitchen sink. The image on the screen is of a man and woman kissing while the sound of burps emerge from the sink--a rather discordant accompaniment to the romance.

Hornbeak-Ortiz reaches for a more spiritual metaphor in Pearl, where she correlates the emotional development of a woman with the formation of a pearl. Folded ivory satin sheets with embroidered text is placed on an old welding table. A color monitor embedded in the table shows a film that projects the pearl/woman allegory. Sand is revealed in an open drawer, the irritant that begins the process of the developing pearl. The sounds of seagulls and waves emanate from the drawer. Romance combined with grit, Hornbeak-Ortiz’s leitmotif of beauty evolving from irritation. Philosophy, politics, poetry, estheticism all come together in dynamic ambiences that project personal and societal angst. Through the subversion of banal products, Hornbeak-Ortiz merges art and technology to manifest her ideas and, hopefully, to create revelations.