A ‘fine line between disgust and attraction’

Doreen Garner uses materials like condoms and teddy bear stuffing in her newest show.

“Hung” is part of Doreen Garner’s newest exhibit “Shiny / Red / Pumping” at Vox Populi, on display until March 1.  | COURTESY Doreen Garner
“Hung” is part of Doreen Garner’s newest exhibit “Shiny / Red / Pumping” at Vox Populi, on display until March 1. | COURTESY Doreen Garner

Artist Doreen Garner describes her sculpture, “Hung,” as resembling a chandelier. The piece contains a smattering of sparkling crystals – Swarovski, to be exact – and is accented with long gold chains and strings of pearls.

A typical chandelier, however, is not adorned with the grotesquely realistic organ-like fixtures that Garner crafted from condoms filled with teddy bear stuffing, glitter and hair.

“I was always interested in the fine line between disgust and attraction,” Garner said.

She attributes much of this fixation to the stares that strangers aimed at her younger sister, whose face had been noticeably affected by her first stroke.

“It made me wonder, ‘OK, are they staring at us because they think she looks nice or are they staring because they think she looks ugly, and then why would they be looking at her?’ And so it made me try to break down the psychology of staring and the gaze,” Garner said.

“Hung” is one of several works from Garner’s solo exhibition, “Shiny / Red / Pumping,” currently taking place at the experimental artist collective at 11th and Callowhill streets, Vox Populi, until March 1.

Garner, a North Philly native and Temple alumna, grew up barely four miles from the gallery where her work is now displayed. In a neighborhood combating drug use and prostitution, Garner’s childhood was often constrained to her porch. She became aware of her surroundings when, as an 8-year-old, she watched her father struggle to keep their door closed while a drug addict who had broken into their backyard attempted to enter the family’s home.

“That was just the point where I realized that we weren’t entirely safe,” Garner said.

Garner began taking art classes in elementary school and progressed to the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, where she proceeded to hone her artistic skills. After creating her first surrealist painting depicting ant-sized humans trapped in a sink, Garner said she saw her work taking on a more dramatic tone.

“In high school, I feel like I was painting really weird,” she said. “I was drawing with paint more so than painting, and I didn’t realize that until I got to Tyler [School of Art].”

Initially adamant about attending the Maryland Institute College of Art, Garner decided instead on Temple after visiting Main Campus. Attending college in Philadelphia, she said, gave her a chance to be closer to her family and spend more time with her sister, whose health was volatile.

Once enrolled in Tyler, Garner deliberated a major, caught between the pathway of making jewelry and what she found to be the more challenging and exhilarating prospect  – glasswork. Garner’s sister, having more strokes and nearing the end of her life, helped her to decide.

“It made me think about my life a little bit differently and how I spend my time, and thinking that maybe I should do something that actually makes me happy rather than paying for something that is just like mediocre to my interests,” Garner said. Garner had never worked with glass at CAPA, and at Tyler, she threw herself into the arts of glass blowing, hot casting and glass polishing.

The resulting works helped Garner to earn a full scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received her MFA in glass.

Garner developed the ideas for many of her current projects in a town in Maine containing less than 9,000 people, where she had been selected to partake in the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. The nine-week residency program chooses 65 artists from all over the world each year to immerse themselves in independent projects.

“They have it there so you can concentrate and not get so caught up in your surroundings, which was hard for me, because there were so many mosquitos,” Garner said.

At the Vox Populi exhibition, the Tyler, RISD and Skowhegan graduate has several poignant messages to convey with her works.  The multimedia aspect of the exhibition, “Palpitation,” comprises risqué footage from dancing World Star Hip Hop Honeys and Instagram models. To distort the videos, Garner amped up the color saturation and mixed the music to create a more dysmorphic display.

Garner also included collages of sexualized models, whose bodies she manipulated to show their insides – pictures of organs she took from an anatomy book. By taking away the sexualized aspect of these photographs and videos, Garner said she wishes to draw attention to the objectification of women that she sees and faces on a daily basis.

“I think it was personal experience of guys looking at me a certain way, talking to me a certain way, which I felt was disgusting and ridiculous,” Garner said.

Angela Gervasi can be reached at angela.gervasi@temple.edu.

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