November 2004
Vol. 35, Issue 9, Pages 19-20

"Alexis Weidig at Overtones"

At any given moment, an individual’s thoughts, decision and actions are shaped by a multitude of factors.  To know these factors, and the complexity of their interaction, is to comprehend a life.  This is a level of awareness to which Alexis Weidig’s newest body of work aspires.  Her site-specific installations, Athenaia, is a portrait, but not in any conventional sense.  It conveys neither a sitter’s physical likeness nor even a specific person, but, rather, the concept of life.

In Athenaia, a domestic setting serves as the locus for a life being mapped.  A respectable, if somewhat ostentatious, living room is indicated by the combination of a sofa with gilded woodwork, a decorative rug and an elaborate chandelier. It is no ordinary site.  The chandelier lies damaged, orange flames still flickering, under the legs of the sofa.  Golden tree branches grow from a cushion, assorted birds perch quietly.  Charms against the evil eye appear throughout, hanging from the chandelier, the tree branches and the talons of a large owl.  A meandering key pattern traced in shiny gold tape radiates from the center of the rug.  It runs along the floor and up the walls of the gallery.  Finally, a faint drawing of a romanticized architectural scene appears on the robin’s egg blue wall. This is a site of intersections, of rupture and collision.

Athenaia is a part of Weidig’s ongoing exploration of her Albanian matrilineage.  The artist’s background, and all its implications, produces factors that shape the life reflected in Athenaia.  According to director of exhibitions Elizabeta Betinski, the name refers to one of Weidig’s ancestors (a small sculpture named after another ancestor, Calandia, is also included in the exhibition).  In the installation, Athenaia is traced back to her namesake: Athena.  The Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare is known for a power rivaling that of her father Zeus, king of the gods.  The prevalence of the owl in the installation is an allusion to Athena, who is associated with the nocturnal hunter.  The curious tree branches are perhaps related to the goddess’s miraculous production of the olive tree as a gift to humanity. Taken together, the various components of Weidig’s installation present a life constrained by tradition, superstition and memories; but, at the same time, fueled by dreams and filled with potential.

Athenaia invocation of a goddess and emphasis on matrilineal ancestry, link it to feminist art of the 1970s.  Women artists of the period engaged in uncovering the “true woman” by stripping away patriarchal constructs.  Those working with goddess imagery, for example, embarked on a quest to recapture the matrilineal origins of humanity and reveal a forgotten past.  They aimed at transforming the world’s perception of the “second sex.”  To re-imagine “woman,” they minded numerous sources, including folklore, oral history and mythology.  Revisionist histories have since discounted this era of feminist art, labeling it essentialist in its failure to consider difference.  Yet, these artists had far-reaching goals and originated radical and influential strategies to attain them. 

Athenaia is, in part, a mythopoetic construct, a story of origins. In Weidig’s endeavor to comprehend a life, she engages in her own journey of self-discovery.  It takes her back to a goddess, but not the primordial goddess of her precursors.  Weidig does not invoke the goddess to generate a universal concept of “woman.”  Instead, Athenaia is rooted in a specific set of circumstances.  In this work, history, experience and context are brought into play.  The multivalent layering, the intersections and the intensity of the installation, all combine to capture the complexity of life.