In Strange Girls, Melissa Stern explores the definition of girlhood as a state of being and state of mind. Stern’s sisterhood ranges from lusty pin-up girls to minimalist, geometric bodies, embracing all within the loving arms of femininity and oddity. Though all share an innate formal elegance, each is afflicted by a sense of imbalance and loss: figures stride proudly as they are bisected by their frames, and voluptuous, fishnet-clad legs are severed from their bodies. In Stern’s fantasyland, girlhood is juxtaposition: beauty afflicted by the melancholy of insufficiency. The work hits an emotional soft spot in all of us, echoing our desire to belong to the norm. “We are allstrange girls,” says Stern, “We all harbor some memory of feeling like an outsider, a stranger.”
Melissa Stern sources her images and allusions from magazines, knick-knacks, and other cultural detritus. She acts as both gatherer and creator, excavating and collecting vintage artifacts, and orchestrating these into open-ended narratives. The work is a mélange of random life moments and sardonic references, what the artist calls, “the flotsam of memory and the jetsam of popular culture.” Her universe is at once familiar and alien. Doll parts, crudely shaped ceramic heads, and magazine advertisements combine to poke and stir-up the collective subconscious. Stern’s girls recall intimate moments and prompt the viewer to converse and grapple with them. Though she baits and teases us with the apparent levity of her sculptures, these Strange Girlspossess a grit and seriousness beneath their playful humor and wit.
A collaboration between intention and chance, Stern allows her objects to organically claim their identity in process. The sculpture, Stiff, embodies Stern’s condition of girlhood and play with materiality. Standing innocent and self-conscious in her pink underwear, midriff peeking out from the hem of her top, the pointy-eared lass is acutely aware of her own discomfort. Her t-shirt, which Stern molded carefully from beeswax, is at once a source of discomfort and protection, a suit of armor that, when challenged, melts away. Perhaps a reference to our nightmares of being caught in the cafeteria in just our knickers--or something even more sinister--we are reminded that our insecurities are communal.
"My sometimes goofy figures live in a dream world, cower in relationships or stand tall in the face of adversity. Some people think they’re funny which is always interesting and never wrong."