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Beautiful ugly violence

Harrison, Margaret (2004) Beautiful ugly violence. UNSPECIFIED. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

'Beautiful ugly violence' is the result of her residence and collaboration with 'Intersection for the Arts'. Harrison takes on the grave subject of women as victims of violence and for this work necessarily sheds her satirical tactics. The female subjects that she has imaged for decades - the cosmetic counter salesgirls in the series Perfumed Politics and Cosmetic Bodies, the Girl in the McDonald's Restaurant and the manifold Marilyn Monroe's, all rendered in airy watercolor- are conspicuously absent from this show. Harrison observes that contemporary audiences are "pity-fatigued" from the excessive spectacle of violence, and so determines to expose her subject's anguish without perpetuating the image of the bloody victim. Instead of imaging the bloody victim, or for that matter the bloody aggressor, Harrison isolates instruments of violence in a suite of nine 26" x 26" paintings and lavishes them not with her usual watercolor but with the more tenacious medium of oil paint. Arranged atop rich velvet drapery and ornate rugs, the portraits of weapons, a gun and knife, as well as everyday appliances like a teakettle and telephone, are deceptively composed and unblemished. Their uniform size and balanced presentation further conceal their dangerous potential. By allowing printed words and innocuous, beautifully painted weapons to stand in for the horror of violence against women, Harrison demands an attentive audience. A piece entitled Rape no longer shocks audiences the way it did in the 1970's, but that does not mean the issues have subsided. In fact, it may be that Harrison's work is more valuable now than ever; for with 'Beautiful ugly violence', her work extends beyond the uninformed audience to the harder-to-reach, numb, indeed "pity-fatigued" audience that we are.

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