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Artist: Hillary MushkinClick on image to view project

Hillary Mushkin — Girl with Lions

Introduction by Sally Stein

When on a visit to Rome, a doorknob in the shape of a lion’s head beckoned to her hand; she felt a rush…but of what? What, she wondered, was the effect of encountering, clasping even, one of the oldest signs of imperial power? Was such casual contact meant to embolden or subdue the passerby in a cocoon of false security?

She had grown up in a nearly undecorated—entirely wood-paneled. Now she found herself simultaneously drawn to and shocked by such nakedly flamboyant political inscriptions. On returning to her home in another modern empire that sought to encircle its efforts at domination in a dreamlike domestic peace, she wanted to simulate just as brazenly this gilded weave of pleasure and unease.

The decorative arts of imperial authority have invariably employed a heterogeneous syntax of long patterned references to the grand antecedents of wealth and control—Greek,Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian. She would proceed likewise, drawing from today’s online lexicon of generic symbols of Golden Fleece and gilded laurels, and scour too from the same communal archive patently nostalgic snapshot imagery of a father and daughter, two girls on a sandy bank, and a solitary girl utterly self-absorbed. These figures she redrew on her own electronic tablet to make them even more generic and blurred into hazy reverie.

From her snapshot sources, she always chose to feature a young, white girl. But is she parodying that traditional concern so often invoked as political rationale; or, with the central positioning of these females, is she targeting them?

Maybe she’s waiting for them to awake from their sleepwalking in a magic circle. Or else she’s hoping that these sweet confections will leave her viewers sated to the point of recognizing the dream as nightmare, so that at least they suspect that what first may appear as the magical shooting star is really white phosphorus falling not too far away.

Then maybe we will be inspired by the laurels that in one side panel refuse to adhere to the form of protective wreath and run riot.

Sally Stein, independent scholar, Los Angeles.

Hillary Mushkin is a visual artist focusing on landscape and American ideology. Her work extends delicate drawing to time-based, installation, and interactive formats. Her practice includes interdisciplinary collaborations across a broad range of fields including poetics, architecture, and digital media. The work often uses humor and absurdity to tackle serious issues. Mushkin’s projects have been exhibited at the Freud Museum (London), the Getty Museum (Los Angeles), and White Columns (new York), as well as in alternative contexts including sidewalks, parking lots, and a hair salon. Most recently, Mushkin’s work was featured at: Moving Images in Public Space (Amsterdam) and Graduate Center (New York). In the fall of 2009, a fifteen-page image/poem made in collaboration with poet Jen Hofer was published in the journal Area Sneaks, edited by Joseph Mosconi and Rita Gonzales. She lives in Los Angeles.