Borsuk Draws Outside Lines in 'Ornament'

By Karrin Ellerston


A roadblock that deters some women artists is how to address issues of femininity without simply contributing to a cycle of repeated imagery. But Andrea Borsuk's exhibition "Ornament," at Alysia Duckler Gallery, is exceptional: It rises to the challenge and invigorates a feminist dialogue.

Borsuk's technical skills are well-defined. Her formal choices set a solid stage for her measured critique of women's prescribed representations in society. "I am interested in how we envi'sion the (woman's) body," she writes, "and how it is represented as an icon or 'ornament' of beauty."

She addresses the loaded subject not with a heavy hand but with playfulness ,and humor. Using a jewelry motif, Borsuk strings together various female archetypes from art history and popular culture. Each figure becomes an ornament in Borsuk's intricate necklace.

A background of brilliant, fiery red pigment makes the painting "Lucky Charms" the first work to grab the viewer's attention. The seductive color sets the tone for an unfolding carnival. Suspended from vines is a cast of nude and semi-nude female figures, each dangling in an entrancing pose. All are adorned with sparkling accouterments: ankle bracelets, necklaces and arm bands. They are sultry showgirls imbued with the soul of Josephine Baker. The voluptuous figures are intermixed with other charms on the necklace. Large stoic faces resembling stone cameos hang next to a beaded trellis of Venus of Willendorf figures. Borsuk writes, "Are these stereotypes accurate reflections of 'femininity' or constructions from fantasies of identity and desire?" She asks but does not answer.

In "Temperamental Ornaments/Ornamental Temperaments," Borsuk applies her pointed compositions to a nine-square grid. A closer perusal reveals women in various roles of entertainer and muse. The central element is the head of some classical sculpture, perhaps Aphrodite. She connects to other figures in the painting through a beaded network. Mermaids, Geisha girls and female jesters mingle.

Borsuk's work seduces the viewer with sexual imagery, yet the figures beckoning us are not real. She dares us to consider that what we are attracted to are merely plastic trinkets on a dime-store bracelet.