Jodi Colella’s solo exhibition, Faculty of Utterance, brings together several bodies of work to interrogate current areas of cultural tension—identity politics, institutionalized prejudice, corporal agency, and substance use, among them. The potent objects on view probe fiber’s aesthetic and technical possibilities and demonstrate the power of a needle and thread to affect societal change.
Several of the forms in Faculty of Utterance confront ongoing issues of gender-based oppression, with excessive embellishment designed to symbolically subvert female identity. For example, in Colella’s Mary Janes sculptures, the artist partially wraps mid-century collectible figurines with assorted threads to conceal parts of
their bodies. The bulbous coverings restrict access to the figurines—their faces in particular—keeping both viewers and subjects in the dark and representing the suppression of the female voice.
Colella plays with scale and proportion to further unsettle our encounters with the Mary Janes. Some characters retain the diminutive size of the original mid-century figurines, while others are monumentalized, thus shifting our response from curiosity to unease. What’s more, Colella has tightly wrapped the threads into near-perfect spheres. This orderliness not only belies the violent act of concealment, it also evokes the ongoing perfectionist standards for women in the domestic realm.
Mary Janes top L to R: Tacit in Blue, Acquiescence in Yellow, Pink, Olive. Drag me to add paragraph to your block, write your own text and edit me.
Colella’s other two series—Headware and Shelter in Place—expand her exploration of the complexities of feminine vulnerability and power. The abundant headpieces partially shield the wearer from view while impeding freedom of movement. Much like the white bonnets of Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” or the pink Pussyhats. Colella’s sculpted adornments both challenge the subjugation of women and call for their protection.
The embroidered snapshots of Shelter in Place further confront the constrictions that plague the female experience. Appearing frozen in time and place, the mid-century subjects are stitched into their regressive domestic environments and personalized by decorative handwork. When “sheltering in place,” one must seek safety where one stands, and like many women of that era, her figures must look within for agency and comfort.
Throughout the Faculty of Utterance exhibition, complex dualities surface—beauty and malice, restraint and excess, power and oppression—and Colella’s textural erasure of female identity exists as both a repressive and liberating action. Her concealment of physicality nullifies bias and disrupts societal presuppositions based on beauty, gender, and cultural stereotypes. Much like Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, Colella’s sculptures challenge viewers to confront their own partiality and prompt imaginings of a liberated world.
In view of her larger practice, the objects in Faculty of Utterance expand beyond the conceptual sphere into ideals of labor, process, and community. Much of Colella’s oeuvre is centered on durational handwork, and the artist relishes the materiality of artmaking with an almost fetishistic focus. A prime example is the muscular Once Was, with its 3,600 blooms constructed from upcycled clothing to memorialize lives lost due to opioids. This tour de force and the accompanying works in Faculty of Utterance assert that the “how” of making is as important as the “why,” with a reminder of how tightly the two paradigms are intertwined.
– Beth McLaughlin, Chief Curator of Exhibitions and Collections, Fuller Craft Museum