Cecelia Kane’s latest work evolved from her Facebook page. Flouting the concern of friends who scolded her for posting unflattering photographs of herself on a social network, Kane provided daily self-portraits expressing an array of emotions—impatience, fear, whatever she was feeling when she snapped the picture. Drawing on the connection between women and mirrors, the Atlanta artist used red lipstick to label a feeling on her forehead and then took close-ups of herself peering into a bathroom mirror for 89 days. Kane pairs the color images with altered vintage handkerchiefs in How Am I Feeling Today?, an engaging installation at Henley Studios in Inman Park.
Kane’s solo show is a great example of the collaborative spirit in the new collective called i45, which includes five galleries in Inman Park (i), the old Fourth Ward (4), and Little Five Points (5). Although the exhibit was originally planned for the Opal Gallery, Jenny Henley of Henley Studios agreed to present it when Opal faced dust problems caused by renovations in a back office. “A year ago we decided to pull together and make this known as a vibrant art community,” Opal director Constance Lewis said of i45. The other members of the ensemble are Whitespace Gallery, Barbara Archer Gallery, and Wm Turner Gallery.
How Am I Feeling Today? has existential underpinnings beginning with the serial questions posted in the long entrance hall, such as “Who am I? Am I my feelings? Am I my mind or body?” In the small exhibition space, Kane’s digital self-portraits are mounted on mirrored plexiglass, which pulls the viewer’s own reflection into the art, inviting self-examination. The direct gaze of Kane’s alluring blue eyes elicits further engagement. The 89 portraits, numbered for the years that the artist’s mother lived, are mapped in a grid on one wall while 89 handkerchiefs align on the opposing wall as in a mirror image.
Identity issues are compounded by Kane’s Roman Catholic upbringing, a part of herself which is represented by a hand-made replica of her schoolgirl uniform. The navy blue garment hangs beneath the equally utilitarian bathroom mirror that she dislodged from her home for the show. Kane dons the costume for ritualistic performance acts that add a solemn, ceremonial note to How Am I Feeling Today?
The lowly hankie plays the pivotal role in this exhibit, joining the artist’s youth to her contemporary explorations of selfhood and to her deceased mother, who had a crucial formative influence. Two years ago, rummaging through her attic, Kane discovered about 100 of the kerchiefs stashed in a hatbox. As a girl she sported many of them in the breast pocket of her uniform, and the others belonged to her mother.
Kane’s self-portraits acquire eerie overtones in photo transfers to the antiquated handkerchiefs, providing clues that this body of work is ultimately about our progression toward death. Images of her face are distorted or enhanced with embroidery, paint, or graphite. In Weightless, Kane’s normally elongated face is tumescent, floating like a ghostly green balloon while a floral border is literally pushing daisies. In Old, the delicate lines of a block print spread across her face like the tattoo of aging. In Alive, Kane’s visage is embedded in a psychedelic hankie from the 60s, positioned so that a black spot suggests she’s been shot in the head, echoing the assassinations of the era.
In an interview, Kane attributes the serial nature of her work to her early Catholicism: “It all stems from this Catholic business of walking the 14 stations of the cross, the whole idea of counting and having an intention in mind. The idea is that you would get your answer in the end.”
Kane’s serial style finds its biggest expression in the Hand to Hand Project, a collaborative effort involving about 200 artists who have created glove-based works documenting nearly every day of the Iraqi War since its inception in early 2003. The project is expected to close with President Obama’s pledged withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. And that, too, will be a long-awaited answer.
Cecelia Kane’s How Am I Feeling Today? runs through June 26 at Henley Studios. Kane performs at 3 p.m. every Thursday through Saturday.