April 7 - May 5, 2007The daughter of a high school guidance counselor and a public librarian, Kirsten Stoltmann was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Stoltmann attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she studied experimental filmmaking. It was there that she was introduced to George Kuchar and his video work. Stoltmann was greatly influenced by his use of awkwardness and humor and everyday situations to create his art. She moved to San Francisco to continue working in film, but found the world of experimental film to be too rigid, and moved back to Chicago, IL. Initially enrolling in the Film and Video Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she was encouraged to transfer to the Studio Arts program by the feminist video maker Julie Zando. Within this program Stoltmann began to work with artist Tony Tasset who encouraged the artist to embrace her Midwestern, self-deprecating aesthetic. Tasset called Stoltmann the Carol Burnett of the art world.
Creating work in the Midwest carries with it a certain freedom and certain sadness. There is absolute freedom to make the work that an artist wants to make, and no one questions strange tangents or oddball pursuits in art. In fact, they are most often encouraged. But part of the journey of an artist is to be in dialogue with the work of the past and the present. And there comes a time when most artists, seeking something else, want to leave what can still be seen as a provincial and limiting midwestern environment.
Overflowing messy collages are created with melted crayons and cutout images of roses are juxtaposed with a serene video titled Renegade in which Stoltmann as shaman levitates between two rocks in the desert of the American west and Tumbleweeds adorned with turquoise beads, feathers and gold hot glue were strewn about the gallery and she presented a small modernist photograph of a crystal in her vagina. The show exhibited a persona pulled in two directions, the soul of a solitary shaman artist finding and losing itself within the messes and vicissitudes of motherhood.
It is impossible to declare oneself an outlaw or outside of society without standing up against that society. But one reason that American contemporary women artists may not be willing to identify their practice as feminist is that it creates an immediate location for the art work as outside. This location would certainly be outside of the current market. But a positioning as completely outside would disallow for a cross contamination of artwork, or an invasion from within.
Removed from her art world of Chicago it was necessary for Stoltmann to reestablish herself as the outlaw and the fool. It is in this context that the work Stoltmann presented at Wallspace Gallery in 2005 should be seen as an announcement and a provocation. The clue to the nature of this work was the title of the show; I know what I’m doing and a wine bottle spilled in the corner with you don't know me dribbled onto the gallery floor. This work was also a reaction against the faux naivety of the kind of artwork that Roberta Smith likes to champion. For Stoltmann, to be allowed to make something dumb it must be meaningful, heartfelt and ultimately vulnerable. The challenge and complexity of this work is that it seems so simple and so dumb. But the truth is that it is dumb and loaded. An unfolding of Stoltmann’s work reveals the spillage of the manifest destiny of suburbia, a critique of the American family unit, a full frontal assault on the current art market, a call for everyone to stop taking themselves so goddamn seriously, an unmitigated vulnerability and pathos, a feminist revival, and an avant-garde manifesto.
The work of Kirsten Stoltmann combines the vulnerability of Tracey Emin, the ballsiness of Sarah Lucas with the screwball antics of Laverne and Shirley. (In 2001 Donald Young Gallery placed an ad for Kirsten Stoltmann, which was a recreation of the Lynda Benglis art forum ad from 1974. For the ad for her show at Allston Skirt Gallery, the artist pulls down her pants, mimicking the collectable figurine of a young girl on a side table in her parents home. In these book-ended ads Kirsten reclaims the work of brazen and confrontational artist while the other reveals a more vulnerable and pathetic off-ness.
In her poetic essay The Gender of Sound the poet and classicist Anne Carson discusses the ancient Greek figure of Baubo, "the patron saint of aischrologia (saying ugly things)” Baubo was associated with "the twofold gesture of pulling up her clothes to reveal her genitalia and also shouting out obscene language or jokes.” During the ancient rituals of this Greek goddess, women would lift up at their skirts and tell bawdy jokes. Men were not invited. Carson found these rituals and the Baubo figurines to be a problematic manifestation of the fear of and containment of women's voices and sexuality. In her essay Carson is looking for a way to see past this past, seeking a new definition for what the Greeks called sophrosyne (the masculine defined and self-controlled sense of self). We are being reminded during this time of feminist reclamation of the power the work of women to shape the art that was to come after it. But we should not need to be reminded of this. It should be known. The humor and anger of women must be inclusively reclaimed. It must be a part of the continuous dialogue of art, as it is in the challenging work of Kirsten Stoltmann, this is one way of seeking a new way forward.