When a work of art sticks in your mind, it's telling you something.
Betty," a mock skeleton constructed out of Barbie doll parts, is stuck in my mind.
Created by Fort Lewis College art major Chrissy Kinslow, the life-size sculpture appeared in a student exhibit more
than a month ago.
When I walked into the gallery, Betty" sat in a corner, almost hidden from view. At a distance, she looked like the
real thing, a human skeleton. But she wasn't suspended from a wire as skeletons conventionally are displayed. Betty"
sat, or more specifically, sprawled on a folding chair, limbs akimbo, casually staring at every viewer who passed by.
On close inspection, her bones were not bones. Betty" was entirely constructed of doll parts - legs, arms and
multitudes of little heads. Painted a soft glossy white, they looked a lot like bones. I admired the illusion and the
humor in a construction meant to stand in satirically for a human skeleton.
Skeletons, as we all know, carry a lot of symbolic baggage.
Artistic skeletons have a marvelously long history. They always have symbolized death and the transience of life. In
the Middle Ages, skeletons were particularly popular as plagues swept across Europe and the Grim Reaper confronted
ordinary people every day.
As a political cartoonist, I traffic in symbols and satire. I have a fat folder of cartoons about death. Most of them
feature a skull, a skull and crossbones, or the G.R. himself, a skeleton cloaked in black carrying a scythe.
Woody Allen wrote a hilarious one-act play titled Death Knocks." The action centers on Nat Ackerman, a middle-aged New
Yorker. He briefly distracts the Grim Reaper with a card game. Therein lies the humor.
Well, Kinslow is playing another game - illusion. Let's pretend" is the oldest game in art. Create something that
turns out to be something else. It doesn't matter whether it's a bison on a cave wall or a teacup lined with fur. The
game is on, and viewers are invited to enjoy the mental exercise that goes with it.
Like a master chef, Kinslow layers another cultural artifact, Barbie dolls, into an already potent mix. The result is a
kettle of contradictory images and ideas. How interesting is that?
I asked Amy Wendland, Kinslow's design professor, about the assignment that spawned Betty."
It was an installation assignment," Wendland said.
And with a twinkle in her eye, she continued to explain dryly that Betty" evolved in Art 110, Visual Foundations II.
It's a 3-D design class. The students had to activate a space with a limited palette and only three materials. The
students complained about the limitations, but that's what stretches the imagination."
Stretch, indeed. And only one reason Betty" sticks in my mind.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at Jud_reyn@yahoo.com.