Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Molly Dierks

In her work, Molly Dierks forces together concepts of normative femininity and elements of industrial fabrication—sometimes uneasily, other times uncannily well. Using saturated and pastel hues typically associated with women’s products in combination with hard metals and unyielding forms, Dierks makes associations between femininity and fabrication that describe complicity rather than contrasts. Her sculptures do more than point out the labor intrinsic to the production of femininity; they implicate an unseen ecology of machine manufacturing behind it.

Molly Dierks. Parts, 2010 (installation view); car parts, paint, metal and wood bases; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Molly Dierks. Parts, 2010; car parts, paint, metal and wood bases; dimensions variable; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist.

In her installation Parts (2010), Dierks erects three metal objects with evocative but nonspecific shapes and details. Painted a warm coral hue like lipstick or rouge, the forms suggest sections of mass-produced, utilitarian objects. Strangely feminized by their shapes and color, they appear like hybrids of car parts and pantyhose, fenders and legs. But what is strangest about them is how surprisingly natural it feels to a viewer to see both a car door and lipstick in the same object. Parts goes beyond a mere feminizing of typically masculine objects—the maligned “shrink it and pink it” ethos applied to marketing products to women. The congruity of these readings reveals a deeper entanglement between them, of seeing the production of a concept of a woman in the production of a car.

Molly Dierks. Parts, 2010 (detail); car parts, paint, metal and wood bases; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Molly Dierks. Parts, 2010 (detail); car parts, paint, metal and wood bases; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

The artist intensifies this entangled reading through her Hardbodies series (2012), in which the chromed and car-paint-dipped sculptures look like lipstick, pills, hair curlers, or vibrators. This linkage suggests not only that the ideation of woman is a cultural production, but also that industrial modes are required to effect it—that it’s not just the curled hair, the colored lips, or the Prozac smiles that produce the Stepford Wife aesthetic of normative femininity, but also the factories, machines, and electronics that make the objects that produce the curls and the colors. The end result, Dierks suggests, is like the attractively bright and unyielding Hardbodies. The shaped mirrors under these objects possess a seminal quality: They reflect the image of the sculpture, a commodity produced to reflect heteronormative male desire.

Molly Dierks. Hardbodies, 2012; wood, automotive paint, lathed aluminum, mirrors; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Molly Dierks. Hardbodies, 2012; wood, automotive paint, lathed aluminum, mirrors; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Dierks’s Test Tube Babies (2016), meanwhile, appear to be failures or byproducts, the tailings of feminine production. These silvery, molten masses are squished, pitted, and burned, like ingots subjected to forces much greater than they can bear. They are also peppered with incongruously girlish details: pastel blotches like gobs of melted candy, tubing like a half-dead glow-stick bracelet, a pink plastic bag like a bubblegum balloon, sparkling rhinestones. They seem to be the tortured remnants of the ore of femininity, the raw material from which the commodified female is crafted.

Molly Dierks. Test Tube Babies, 2016; cast aluminum, paint, resin, urethane found objects; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Molly Dierks. Test Tube Babies, 2016; cast aluminum, paint, resin, urethane found objects; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

But whereas Parts and Hardbodies explore a relationship between the production of femininity and industrial goods, Test Tube Babies offers a way out of this bleak vision. The Test Tube Babies works do not evoke a sense of completion, unlike the sleek forms of the earlier works. Instead, they are abject and grotesque, a rejection of easy modes of consumption. As test forms for normative femininity, they may be failures, but as failures they express the possibility of liminal positions within industrial manufacturing, either of ideas or objects. For those seeking a path away from classification and gender essentialism, the Test Tube Babies offer a template—one less recognizable and perhaps more appropriate—for modes of being and becoming.

Molly Dierks. Test Tube Babies, 2016; cast aluminum, paint, resin, urethane found objects; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Molly Dierks. Test Tube Babies, 2016; cast aluminum, paint, resin, urethane found objects; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Molly Valentine Dierks received a BA in behavioral psychology from Dartmouth College, a post-baccalaureate degree in sculpture and extended media from Virginia Commonwealth University, and an MFA in art and design from the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. She has participated in exhibitions nationally and internationally. Her work has been included in exhibitions by such institutions as the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, University of Michigan Museum of Modern Art, the Kunsthalle Detroit Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. She is currently an assistant professor of fine arts at Tarleton State University, and she lives and works in Texas.

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