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Walking down the streets of the Lower East Side, a street where every corner tells a story for me, I entertain a friend visiting from overseas with some of those stories. The time I bumped into some Australians on this corner; the time I closed down this bar; the bartops I danced on; the men I met; the music I heard. As we approach the corner of Ludlow and Stanton, I’m reminded of the time Banksy was running amok on the Lower East Side and a burnt-out car painted with graffiti in this empty lot opposite Pianos, my favorite Sunday-night pyama dance party spot.
Until she stopped. Turned around.
And I felt it too. The energy, pulling me in.
We looked in the window of a brightly lit gallery, one I’d never noticed before. Maybe it’s new, another attempt to turn this gritty corner of the city into the Soho it will soon become, growing faster and more furious in the twelve months since I left this neighborhood.
Or perhaps it’s just the energy of the artwork that’s pulling us in, the white room filled with sculptures in bright pink and purple, evoking feelings of – wait, is that a – yes, yes it is. As we walk in, as we stop to catch our breath, as we notice that these sculptures of feminine anatomy, of Medusa with her snakes flying, of our most womanly parts molded into pieces reminiscent of luscious fruits and growing blossoms, we also notice what they’re composed of.
Hundreds upon thousands of long, talon-esque nails, the kind used in a salon to advertise favorite shades like “Don’t be Koi with me” and “Dance like a Kabuki Queen” (no, I haven’t quoted an OPI shade by name since the Fall 2004 Japanese range), the kind propped up in beauty salons by the dozen all over America, where hardworking women trying to be just a little prettier, a little softer, a little less evidently hardworking and judged so by their hands, so they hand over eight or nine dollars to harder (but who’s judging) working Asian or Russian immigrants to manicure, soften, wipe away the efforts of hard work from those hands. Those hands that are defined by the work they do, typing at monitors, motioning to projectors, assembling sandwiches and pouring drinks and writing orders on notepads, wiping children’s sweaty brows and soothing flushed cheeks, clasping the hand of a lover or stroking a shoulder blade down to the wrist. The nail displays managed by underpaid, sometimes abused, sometimes successful women who chatter in Korean behind masked sighs as they fix yet another hangnail, apply another layer of shellac, deal with another frustrated customer’s New York meltdown as she refuses to pay the extra three dollars because she didn’t know the massage was extra.
The little bright pink or mauve additions to a work outfit that just might make that boardroom presentation look a little more feminine; the pale softness incorporated into a wedding ensemble to make those hands look dainty; the ruby-red contrast with a black dress to make that date all the more sexier.
And so it goes, the fingernails that rapaciously turn a finger up to the oppressor, that scratches with claws that are sharper than they look. The hand that sends an email with a catty rejoinder, that’s deleted the word “just” from all mentions of a job well done, that motions to a projector in triumph over a presentation that is well-researched and well-founded, nods towards the men in the room be damned. The fingernails that sink into the back of a lover with frenzied ecstasy, that scratch limbs in pleasurable agony and eases the itch of aloneness. The term "rapacious", used to indicate - what, exactly? Is it like notorious, but for a woman? Or does it speak of those fingernails scratching slowly down a blackboard, irritating all who surround with her sound, hitting where it hurts, yet also, somehow, easing that itch with targeted precision?
The fingernails that frantically clutch the disappearing tenets of society in one hand while turning up a taloned middle finger to the patriarchy are formed in a medusa, long snakes flailing, before moving along the hallway of Richard Tattinger Gallery to view leather on mother-of-pearl, skin-on-skin, contrast of roughness on smooth; leather on silk, the words of sex workers as they portray the vulnerability inherent in the violence.
As with all visual art, the act of writing pales in comparison to the full experience of witnessing, of taking in, of holding one’s breath to view the incredible sight that is Frances Goodman’s primary installation, the artwork known as “The Dream.”
Enter the larger room to view a mountain, a veritable wedding cake stacked high with every fabric an HBO-reality-show enthusiast recites in their sleep:
Tulle, chiffon, organza, georgette, silk, taffeta. Embroidery, ruching, lace, smocking, appliqué, gold and silver and bronze and blue and seafoam and rose-pink and mushroom and slate and eggshell and vanilla and birdsegg and blush and mint and even the traditional white, all piled in a mountain of dreams, some ripped, some torn, some destroyed, some slashed, some simply fading away into a pile of motheaten rags, some with a small tear mended with care, others fallen apart after one night of hedonistic dancing that never thought about tomorrow.
As you take in the scene, viewing endless curtains of embroidery, the senses are overcome with the most powerful medium, for me: the medium of words.
Curtains are embroidered with famous platitudes, some uttered by well-known personas, some that could’ve been overheard at brunch at one of the many upscale cafes on this block. Tales of dreams never realized, of marriage dreamed but never actualized, of an independent desire to achieve it all alone yet a societal pressure to do it with another. Of the little girl fantasy to be a princess for a day, of the adult girl wonder at being able to do it all on her own, at the conflicting tales of two girls who battle within, the one who wants to live according to her whims, the other flattered by the attention of a society who will only realize your value once you are with another.
And as you skim your eyes over the quotes, and wonder which ones ring truest, you start to hear the words, piping over a sound system. The words that could be you, or your best girlfriend, or the girl that you’d never agree with but like to airkiss at bridal showers as she talks about the diamond ring she’s manifesting this year. The words of women as they talk hopes, and dreams, and little girl fantasies and grown up realities and the dreams and wishes of grandma, mom, big sister, little sister, and the hardest one of all: Of you. Of the little girl who once thought she’d adorn herself in taffeta too, who wore a pillow case on her head, who danced under a Chuppah fort made up of blankets, who listened to the tales of how she’d never be okay alone, who’s made it work for her but wonders if maybe she’d have a better blender if she was married and got to use that fun scan-gun thingy at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
And as we wander around the room, and the dreams smell delightful even as we hear the tales of destroyed blackened dreams, and we think of our particular dream and its smell of vanilla and burnt sugar, and the dreams of the girls next to us we sometimes judge and the dreams of the girls in the magazines and on reality TV we always judge and the dreams of ourselves that we judge even though why hurt ourselves any longer, why continue to determine what should and shouldn’t be thought or dreamed or accepted by a woman, and continue to be us – continue to dream?
Frances Goodman's "Rapaciously Yours" is open for viewing at the Richard Taittinger Gallery on the Lower East Side until April 17. For the actual summary of what this is all about, visit, http://richardtaittinger.com/exhibition/rapaciously-yours/