Transformation of Ceres into a Madonna
Photographic construction, 36x24x3", 1991
© Kim Stringfellow
Transformation of Ceres into a Madonna
My primary concern in Transformation of Ceres into a Madonna is the transfiguration of the symbols that represent pagan deities/religions into Christian saints/rituals. What is their meaning in our modern society? What, if any, residual knowledge has trickled down to us? Another central issue this piece deals with is the emphasis of the female as spiritual leader in these early pagan religions (i.e., the Greek Mysteries and Minoan Religious Cults) before the conversion to male dominated Christianity.
The main inspiration for the image in Transformation of Ceres into a Madonna came from a symbolic ceramic bust constructed by Salvador Dali. The photographic image depicts a woman wearing ears of corn, a loaf of bread resting on her head, ants crawling across her face. Corn and wheat are central symbols of the Earth/fertility goddesses such as Ceres. The loaf of bread conveys the transformation of the goddess into the body of Christ in a humorous manner; this phallic object is placed in feminine horizontal rather than the traditional male vertical. The ants, also an attribute of Ceres, signify the connection with earth where ants burrow and the underground rituals for the goddess took place. The side panels of the construction represent the labyrinth of time where the mysteries and wisdom of the ancient cultures have been lost, forgotten and reconstructed into new, modern mythologies. The piece also contains a cocoon representing transformation, corn kernels, a severed half of a butterfly wing and a bottle of pollen representing fertility. This piece features live ants when exhibited.
Self-Portrait as St. Lucy
Photographic construction, 36x24x3"
© Kim Stringfellow, 1991
Self-Portrait as St. Lucy
According to legend, Lucy, a third century saint, plucked out her eyes to avoid being recognized by a Roman nobleman who was in pursuit to rape her. She was thus martyred, preserving her virginity for Christ. A variant legend suggests that a suitor was so smitten by Lucy's beautiful eyes that she tore them from her head and sent them to him because she felt that they were causing harm to the young man. The man was so overcome with remorse and also impressed by Lucy's faith that he too became a Christian.
That many of the Christian Saints are disfigured, mutilated or raped to attain their martyrdom amazes me. The romantic idea of suffering extensive visible, mental and self-inflicted pain for "Love" is appalling. In our present day, movies are rampant: Betty Blue, The Story of Adele H. My shrine for St. Lucy represents the sickness, disease, obsession and decay particular to unrequited love.
The main image for the portrait is based on a 15th century trompe l'oeil painting by Carlo Crivelli. In place of the Madonna and Child is a self-portrait of St. Lucy during the act of self-mutilation. She wields a letter opener, her finger transformed into a bound humming-bird which is a Mexican love charm. A crumpled letter rests before her where lies a watchful fly, a memento mori. Above her head are two boughs of rotted fruit, an orange and an apple, a phallic pickle and insect-eaten leaves - offering of love gone bad. In the background are views of Seattle and San Francisco, night and day; the subject is in transition. Below an actual shelf, the trompe l'oeil turns to reality; the blood drips from her eyes into the real space of the viewer. The portrait itself is in the three-dimensional style of the garish shrine boxes of saints one can purchase from Mexico. On either side of the portrait are compartments containing branches with eyeballs to suggest the paranoia of the subject as well as a reference to the Eastern Orthodox depiction of St. Lucy. Below the portrait hangs a torn drape partially covering old jars containing pickles, preserved toads, molding peaches and rotting salmon eggs.
Photographic construction, 39x44x4"
© Kim Stringfellow, 1992
The red construction is based on a School of Fontainebleu painting of Gabrielle d'Estrees and her sister. The original image is quite compelling, showing the two sisters at their bath with one gently, but fetishistically, pinching the other's breast. They seem to know something we do not - feminine intuition abounds. It is interesting that the more delicate sister is performing this sadistic act, which in actuality signifies that her sister is pregnant. The bright red curtains are pulled up to reveal in the background a maid sewing. Near her, above the fireplace, hangs a potentially pornographic period painting. The main emphasis in my reinterpretation is the interaction between the two sisters and their significance to one another. I have presented them as identical twins, stressing the difference between their two personalities; their dominant and submissive characters.
Twins represent duality, the two natures of humankind; the good and the evil, the ego and the alter ego, the feminine and the masculine. My twins are the weavers of fate and the controllers of destiny. I have replaced the maid with an actual weaver's shuttle; "All goddesses of destiny are spinners and weavers, they are repaid in their threefold lunar form and in groups of three, as birth, life, death, past, present, future. Of the three in the group, two are usually good and helpful and one is evil. The third being the breaker of the thread of life." The women in the image seem to be partaking in some sort of unknown ritual. The red curtains again help to emphasize this theatrical illusion as if the twins are in midst of some strange performance. Above the pair are five compartments, each containing a circular object; a domestic spiral (an electrical stove element), the full moon (the symbol for all lunar goddesses), a circular saw blade and a breast where a spider is nursing and clock spiral. The spider nursing from the breast represents "The Great Mother in her terrible aspect as the controller of destiny and weaver of the veil of illusion."
Quotes from an Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, J. C. Cooper, 1978.
"13th Annual Photo Metro Contest Issue." Photo Metro November 1995.
"1993 Annual Contest Issue." Photo Metro November 1993
"8th Annual Contest Issue." Photo Metro October 1990.
Bloom, John. "Beyond Belief at S.F. Camerawork." Photo Metro August 1991.
Cohn, Terri. "Shaped Identities: The Photographic Object." San Francisco Camerawork Quarterly Spring/Summer 1994.
Donohoe, Joe. "The Theology of Kim Stringfellow." Filth 13 (1994).
Greenstein, M. A. "Fauxtography L.A." Visions Art Quarterly Summer 1992.
"Transformation & Decay: Kim Stringfellow's Sensual Shrines." Art Alternatives Summer 1995.
"Trio - 7th Annual Contest Issue." Photo Metro October 1989.
Zimmerer, Kathy. "The Saints." ArtsScene/L.A. 15.6 (1996).
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All text and images © Kim Stringfellow.