Heide Hatry’s Heads and Tales
by Terri Ciccone
February 12, 2009
CAMBRIDGE — In artist Heide Hatry’s exhibit “Heads and Tales,” at the Pierre Menard Gallery there is a table. It is a long, slender, metallic and sturdy table often seen in a hospital operating room. The table symbolizes all that we know and are comfortable with.‚ On top of this table, however, is an idea of much contrast. A decaying body lays on top of it, as though abandoned at her time of death by an entire room of hospital patrons, left to rot and decompose.
And this isn’t even the most disturbing piece at the Harvard Square Gallery.
Around this body, and around the rest of the gallery, hangs images not so monstrous but equally disturbing. On the walls are pictures of women, shot from only the shoulders up, framed in thick black frames. A closer observation reveals that the women look as if they are not present. They have features that make them look like a woman — pouty lips, all different styles and colors of hair, big black eyes, and some even have nice clothing and accessories. Their eyes are large and dilated, and seem to be fixed on something that is not there. Their skin looks creamy and soft, but at the same time it looks awkward and pale — too pale for the living. That is because they too are dead. They look as though they should be seen in a casket, not on gallery walls. Their makeup is heavy and waxy, and the gallery looks like a mortician’s portfolio.
What makes these woman look so life-like and yet no longer on this earth, are because of the unconventional materials used by Hatry. A sped up projection of the artist creating the pieces is shown on a gallery wall. She pulls apart pig skin and body parts. She unwraps fresh pig eyes from their sockets with the haste and regularity of unwrapping a piece of chocolate. She then carefully sculpts and molds materials that should be in your frying pan to a manikin like frame to give life to a dead woman.
Some of the women look less fearsome than the others. In the work titled “Head of Debbi Tale: What happened to her by Rebecca Brown,” the woman in the photo looks happy. She has a small smile on her face as she looks at the camera with her head slightly tilted. Her curly blonde hair playfully dances in her face. Other women in the exhibit are not so fortunate, however. One of the more grotesque images, aside from the body, is called “Head of Jennifer, Tale: Goes to the Dogs by Selah Saterstrom.” In this photo, Jennifer does not appear only to be physically dead, but the expression on her face is dead too. Almost her entire eye is black, dilated with a pupil fixed on nothing. Tiny flies crowed her lips, and attempt to cover entire her eyeball. She does nothing, she can’t.
But it is not only in appearance that Hatry gives the deceits a life-like quality. Juxtaposed with each woman is a frame of text from different writers who the artists asked to pick a woman and give her a story. This creates for a variety of tales for each woman, written as though the viewer has randomly opened a page in a large text book and started reading. Some are written in prose, others are written in the form of poems, stream of consciences, and screen plays, all as different as the women in the frames.
In the case of the work titled “Head of Nanny, Tale: Losing sequins by Jennifer Belle,” we can read only a snippet of one woman’s life story. The photo is of a darker skinned woman with plump rose-colored lips made of pig parts. Her hair is curly and a wild fiery red. She is photographed like so many others outside in front of leafy green trees. The prose starts of with the sentence, “Before she came to take care of the baby there were several before her who hadn’t worked out, mostly because they got on the nerves of the mother.” The story goes on to tell a short tale of Nanny’s interaction with the child and mother. “Head of Jill, Tale: Big With Child by Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro,” we read her story in the form of a play. “Jill: I can feel it (presses the left side of her belly) right here it’s like a little knot. Steve (to audience) she asks me to feel it ten times a day.” We read on to learn that Jill and Steve are getting an abortion.
Some of the stories are simply small windows into a stranger’s life, and some are more dark and disturbing. By adding these stories to her pictures, Hatry does something that we do not often do in life. She forces us to acknowledge the fact that the dead do not simply become bodies, they were once women with a life, women with a story to tell. We realize that all of these women — sisters, girlfriends, nannys, rape victims, strippers, little girls and housewives will all end up like the woman on the table: dead and decaying, losing their story with their physical appearance.
Heads and Tales
Showing until March 15
Pierre Menard Gallery, 10 Arrow Street, Cambridge