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    Women Artists Making History at The Ringling

    The Ringling's curators and staff couldn't help but notice that recent performance, programs, and visual arts are naturally centering around themes relating to womanhood. March saw the opening of Natasha Mazurka: Order Systemsthe Canadian artist's first solo exhibition at a museum in the United States. In April, Moving Ethos Dance Company presents the premiere of girlwoman, a piece choreographed during the local dance company's 6-month Spotlight Florida creative residency at the museum.

    The direct connection between the two works began to crystalize when Leah Verier-Dunn, artistic director of Moving Ethos, named The Handmaid's Tale, the chilling, futuristic 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, as one of her inspirations for girlwomanThe Handmaid's Tale greatly influenced Natasha Mazurka's new artworks in Order Systems. 

    We invited Verier-Dunn to preview Natasha Mazurka: Order Systems; her impressions begin this post, followed by an interview between The Ringling's curator Ola Wlusek and Natasha Mazurka. Finally, we present a video featuring Verier-Dunn speaking on girlwoman. 


    Natasha Mazurka’s Order Systems is powerful. From textured vinyl and morse code to color and pattern, her work took me on a journey of the senses. Every mark is deliberate and purposeful. From edge to edge, each piece has a specificity that whispers truth and wisdom.

    Visitor with The Attendants, 2018, textured vinyl, 144 × 120 in., Courtesy of the artist. © Natasha Mazurka.

    Visitor with The Attendants, 2018, textured vinyl, 144 × 120 in., Courtesy of the artist. © Natasha Mazurka. 

    Upon entering I was quickly seduced by large, shiny, and somewhat fantastical patterns popping boldly off plain white walls. Simply put, they are beautiful. Their beauty, however, was merely an entry point, a way to hook me. In two of the large textured vinyl installments, there was a pale gray shadow cast that I almost missed initially. It seemed like she was making a suggestion, a reminder perhaps to look at the whole picture, literally and figuratively. It encouraged me to reflect about where something comes from and, also, what gets left behind. In the description, she mentions "How our use of patterns to structure our environments is often a reflection of our thoughts, desires, and anxieties." Her captivating patterning bravely comments on our societal culture of perfectionism and the illusion of being in control. Additionally, it references our poisonous habit of putting a shiny coat on something difficult so as to avoid actually dealing with or talking about it.

    I was then met with Natasha’s paintings. Her paintings, though mostly made with cool strokes of blues and purples, had a significant warmth to them. The paintings were feminine and strong. They reminded me of the poise of modern women. How, as women, we’ve sculpted ourselves to handle the throws of the world with elegance and grace. In a sense, the paintings ground the exhibit. Their structure echos the unspoken role of women as a grounding force in families, communities, and beyond.

    Next, I felt like I had entered a room of secrets I was supposed to see. With rows and rows of patterns inspired by morse code, the largest piece on the wall seemed to reference the spoken and unspoken information network women use to communicate with each other. It was placed in a sort of private space and it felt like Natasha put it there for safe keeping, ensuring the messages would be preserved.

    Natasha’s work needs to be seen. Go.

    -- Leah Verier-Dunn, artistic director Moving Ethos Dance Company


    Earlier this year, Ola Wlusek, curator at The Ringling, braved the bitter cold to visit artist Natasha Mazurka in her Ottawa studio, where Natasha has been preparing for her solo exhibition at the Museum, Order Systems.

    Ola Wlusek: Thank you for taking a break from working to chat with me. It’s so wonderful to be able to finally see your new paintings in person. They are glowing and vibrating!

    Natasha Mazurka: The translucency of the surfaces is due to the numerous thin layers of paint. It takes a while for each layer to dry, so I work on multiple paintings at once.

    Natasha Mazurka, \"Fractal Feeders\", 2018, Oil, ink, acrylic, and vinyl on braced Baltic birch panel, 60” x 60”

    Natasha Mazurka, Fractal Feeders2018, oil, ink, acrylic, and vinyl on braced Baltic birch panel, 60 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist. © Natasha Mazurka

    OW: You’ve been occupied with coded languages in patterns for some time now. I love how your paintings demand my eyes to move around and try to decipher the different shapes and motifs within the patterns.

    NM: I’ve been examining the communicative potential of pattern systems and disciplines of information visualization for many years. In these paintings, as well as the hand embossings and vinyl installations, I’ve been researching pattern languages. I’m interested in examining our desire for stability and certainty, achieved through systems of visual design.  With my new work I’m splicing and synthesizing sourced patterns and creating a new visual syntax from existing languages, including natural science, architecture, maps, and data-based visuals. What the sources share in common is a role in communicating knowledge and bringing a sense of order to our experiences.

    OW: What are some of your current applications of pattern systems and how does the concept of aestheticizing information factor into the content of your work?

    NM: The new paintings deal with the regulated and encoded behavior of women. I took inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaids Tale. The book is about inhibiting movement beyond the patriarchal order system. Even though the book is a science fiction, it’s topical within our current society. By referencing The Handmaid’s Tale my work points to how quickly the tools used to help us feel assured and that our lives are purposeful can be used to control us.

    OW: Is this the first time you have inserted your direct personal experience into your paintings?

    NM: Based on my role as a mother, yes. After giving birth to my daughter I became interested in the portrayal of the female experience. My new work incorporates systems and technologies that are from a decidedly female experience. With titles such as Feeder and Suckers, these works explore concepts of affirmation and acceptance, the ambivalence of motherhood, the concept of being nurturing, and the surveillance of the female body and its functions.

    OW: During your visit to The Ringling last year did anything in particular inspire you?

    NM: I was really excited to come across the vanitas paintings, in particular the painting by Jan Davidsz de Heem, titled Still Life with Parrots. The painting captures a rich assortment of visual codes within the symbols of the objects.  My work, All flesh is weak. All flesh is grass is a contemporary vanitas. Like de Heem, it warns us of our transience, alongside symbols of opulence and intellectual achievement. In my work, coding is this achievement; in de Heems, it is the acquisition of material objects and delicacies.

    Ola Wlusek, Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Curator for Contemporary Art at The Ringling, with artist Natasha Mazurka in front of the artist's painting in the exhibition Natasha Mazurka: Order Systems at The Ringling

    Curator Ola Wlusek and artist Natasha Mazurka

    Natasha Mazurka received a Bachelor of Arts from McMaster University and a Master of Fine Arts from Concordia University, where she was the recipient of the J.W. McConnell Fellowship. She has been awarded numerous residencies and fellowships, including the Brucebo Fine Art Residency in Gotland, Sweden; and the Vermont Studio Center Painting Fellowship and Residency. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Prince Takamado Gallery in Tokyo, Japan; VOLTA Basel; VOLTA New York; Papier in Montreal; and the Ottawa Art Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario. Her work is in the collections of Canada House; High Commission of Canada in London, UK; the City of Ottawa Art Collection; Foreign Affairs Canada; the Canadian Fine Art Collection of Gotland, Sweden; and in private and corporate collections in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, New York, Jamaica and Morocco.

    Ola Wlusek is the Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Ringling Museum.

    Natasha Mazurka: Order Systems is on view in the Monda Gallery for Contemporary Art until September 29, 2019.


    girlwoman premieres in the Historic Asolo Theater April 12th and 13th.