It’s the last weekend to catch Stephanie Patton’s exhibition “General Hospital” at The Front. Before it’s gone, Reggie Michael Rodrigue reviews: the doctor is in.
This review was originally published in November 2011, but we’re revisiting it as part of our thematic series in conjunction with “Mutual Support” at Pelican Bomb Gallery X. To further explore ideas central to the exhibition, we’re publishing new reviews, personal essays, interviews, and digital artist projects exploring healing, wellness, and care. We also want to use this opportunity to highlight previously published pieces from our archives, which have documented our ongoing conversations around mental and physical well-being.
With the exhibition “General Hospital,” artist Stephanie Patton imbues a range of minimalist objects and basic actions with emotional heft and humor. Every piece in the show relates to how one deals with and overcomes tragedy, brokenness, sickness, and loss, springing from Patton’s own year of coming to terms with these very things. Nevertheless, she keeps the tone of the exhibition surprisingly light and airy. Pristine whites, cheerful yellows, and soft blues (colors which are inherent to Patton’s materials rather than imposed on them) impart a sense of optimism and ease.
The heart of the exhibition is the nearly two-hour video Heal. Riffing on the sunny cliché of “turning lemons into lemonade,” Patton bluntly squeezes a profusion of lemons and makes lemonade. She then stuffs one halved lemon with cotton batting and sews it back together. The exhausting repetitiveness of the video coupled with the empathy one feels watching Patton’s hands painfully squeeze lemons ad nauseam prepares the viewer for the lemon surgery–an absurd yet tender culmination. The video is a touching reminder of how much work is involved in the healing process but also how strange and magical it can seem.
Patton continues to work her magic through her blue and white “pills”: oversized, wall-mounted sculptures made from mattress quilting. Supremely crafted studies in minimalist subversion, the talismanic objects act as meditations on medication, rest, and sick beds. In the exhibition, other recognizable symbols such as a door and wings, as well as more abstract forms like a large, curvaceous spiral, have been transubstantiated by Patton into serene, white objects covered in upholstered vinyl. One large oval titled Dream Catcher is adorned with white feathers. These works impart a sense of luxe tranquility, while also referring to mental health and the afterlife. Patton further contextualizes several of these objects, using them as backdrops and generative starting points for other pieces. In the large photograph B12, Patton, wearing a white bra and a hair-drying bonnet, looks off into an imagined distance (the past or the future, maybe) and smiles exuberantly before her upholstered spiral. It is a shot of pure joy and redemption. Patton’s second video Dream has her in a tight close-up, swathed in white feathers before Dream Catcher, while cooing the standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” It would be too silly and kitschy on its own; however, in the context of the exhibition, it hits just the right note, leaving viewers with a sense that memory is the stuff of which dreams and possibly the afterlife are made.
Marrying tragedy with comedy, the memes that color all of human experience, Patton has created an enormously generous and inspirational body of work through the most restrained and simple means. Being a master of multiple artistic strategies, Patton has a history of adopting alternate personas in her own work. Now, she can add one more to her repertoire: metaphysical surgeon.