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 by Karen Kettering Dimit 

My artworks deal with multiple dualities inherent in the human condition. Historical references are contrasted with modern elements to express a collective sense of what we have become. I utilize materials that have relevance beyond the material’s basic decorative function, striving  to conflagrate the narrative, process and material. 

Although the impetus for each piece or series comes from current events in my personal life that bring particular dualities into high relief, as the work progresses, it takes on its own life.  I strive to understand the universal elements underlying the events, and encourage the viewer to have their own stories and connections. 

That said, here are some of my stories:

The “Observed” series, for example, came from the aftermath of 9/11, when depictions of Americans and Muslims in media were simplistic and inflammatory.  It reminded me of how we tend to view others as types rather than individuals, and the tragedies that have followed such propaganda throughout history.  One way I depicted this was to simulate 2D on one side of the face and 3D on the other.  The different stones suggested a particular ethnicity, and the striations contributed greatly to the emotional content of the pieces.

A word about stone:  I didn’t choose it, it chose me.  In 2001, I had an unexpected encounter with stone, while visiting a friend at a sculpture supply store.  The stones virtually accosted me: they grabbed me and shouted, “do something with me!”  I was a little flummoxed.  I hadn’t worked in 3D before so I didn’t know how to transform complex ideas into an object.  And frankly, it is my perception that stone carving is not really valued in today’s art world.  But I’ve learned to listen to my gut.  So I had to figure out what does grab me in sculpture and in stone. 

I love African sculpture.  I love how it is used as a force in society, (for a function in society); I love how the objects are not necessarily refined, yet they are powerful; and I love the juxtaposition of disparate materials, each one chosen for a specific function within piece. 

I am also captivated by a broken piece of an arm or torso from a classical sculpture.  Those seemed alive, for some reason (potential? loss?), whereas whole figurative sculptures may not move me.

Stones, like humans are formed and shaped by unique cataclysmic events, and these markers are very visible.  What better material to use, then, when dealing with aspects of the human condition!

The “Gods and Goddesses” series was inspired by 2 different events:  One was the questioning of my male-dominated religion and upbringing and the effect these had on my sense of self-worth; And the second was the decline and fall of my parents (my God and Goddess on earth, if you will), witnessing the beauty of their spirit and the amazing power of their life force emanating from these broken bodies. 

Using the erect phallus in “Zeus” to visualize “life force” was inspired by the Hindu Shiva Lingam, or phallus of Shiva, which represents the force of creation and destruction.  I juxtaposed the phallus with broken body parts, which are being carted away on gurney-like structure.  The total not only gives the viewer a sense of the dualities at play, but also allows them to bring their own associations and narrative to the piece, which is important to me. 

The “Subway Goddess Pageant” series juxtaposes ancient powerful female figures, carved in stone, with contemporary goddesses one might see on the subway, done in mosaics.  The mosaic goddesses are light-hearted.  But they are perhaps less confident and more superficial, and give a sense of some essence lost.  Each one deals with a certain aspect of the undervaluing of the feminine in the self and in the world.

The process mirrors the concept: Mosaicing on a 3D form is superficial compared with stone carving.  It’s a matter of applying a skin on a substrate versus digging the inner goddess out of the depths of a stone. 

Water Towers, observed yet silent, have watched over New York City for more than 100 years.  Seven of them stand sentinel in my slice of sky out our rear window.  These low-tech tanks provide water to every NYC building over 6 stories tall, though many have been cloaked in modesty.  They have become an obsession of mine, and I am often exploring another part of the city with my camera to get yet another juxtaposition of raw wooden water tank to slick granite or elegant brick façade.  

In my artwork, I tend to create sculptures that combine materials that evoke a visceral response with conceptual ideas of dualities inherent in the human condition.  Therefore, the water towers remained purely as photos on my computer. I finally figured out how to work with this fascination in my art:  any time I wanted to experiment with new techniques and materials, I would use the wooden water tank and its metal trestle as my subject.  Thus was born the “NYC Water Tower:  A Mosaic ‘Sketchbook’”.  Apollo and Dionysus dance, wrestle, fight, collaborate, and explore together right in my studio.  It is exhilarating!

Yin and yang, the balanced concept of female and male duality, seems to be dramatically out of balance due to the subjugation of the feminine to the masculine in our global society. This is exemplified by the tragic gendercide of over 100-million girls in the last 20 years, which is the impetus for my current work. "Reliquary for the 100Million Cancelled Girls, #1-10" honors the precious individuals who were not allowed to live because they were girls.

YANG (minus yin)” focuses on both the hierarchy of yang-over-yin and the resultant personal and global loss this has generated. Based on Neolithic Romanian figurines, the fully formed male “mourning” figure is in a superior position, sitting amongst a militarized sun pattern, with a rich, varied and colorful dragon “tattoo” of minerals and smalti. This is contrasted with the incompleted form and color fulfillment of the female and her phoenix “tattoo”, sitting deep in a cage on a Fibonacci spiral ash pile of a of elemental stones and minerals.  

In “’Women Hold Up Half the Sky’, Plazas #1 and #2”, I attempt to visualize Mao Zedong’s quote in a way that will give the viewer a real visceral sense of the equal role “feminine” yin energies have in the world to “masculine” yang energies. For Plaza #2,  multi-armed Kali- and Shiva-like powerful female and male figurines actively hold up the morning and evening sky overhead. 

REGRESSION SERIES: Systemic entitlement propagates gender bias and inequality, promoting arrested development for all. “The Hol(e)y Book: where am I?” and “HEAD START: Arrested Development” goes back to MY roots, and the beginning of my journey towards empowerment.  After 15 years of focusing on gender bias issues in my artwork, I naively thought the world was making great progress in moving beyond the Patriarchal order of things, and I would finish my work with these and move on...Turns out, the series title sadly resonates in more ways today than anticipated. These works examine systemic sexism, or “How I Was Brought Up To Think”, and, specifically, how structures of society and religious institutions have been built to reinforce gender inequality.  

More details, if you're curious... of specific uses of materials and techniques to help tell the stories: 

HEAD START: Arrested Development”, first of all, uses Russian nesting doll forms that are traditionally women, the name for them being Matryoshka, little matron, to assert male dominance of the Patriarchal family structure.  The front and the back give different clues to each character, i.e. the Father’s conservative suit in front gives way to a judge’s robe on the back, both using the traditional cube shaped tesserae (individual pieces of a mosaic); the Golden Boy Son has typical aims to be a Super Hero and band member, and on the back, he is literally and figuratively charmed in his pursuits; the Mother has one hand over her mouth and one on her tummy on the front, showing what her role should to be in this family, with the back Madonna-like cloak made out of broken china (Picassiette), a mosaic technique traditionally thought of as craft, less serious, lesser;  the Daughter wears a lovely tutu, but she has no mouth, no voice, and the red ribbon on her dress catches her arms in the back, no agency.

The Hol(e)y Book: where am I?” Concept: A “pop-up illuminated manuscript book”.

-The pop-up figure of the Woman is 2D, dressed using stained glass, a flatter, more 2-dimensional material used in contemporary mosaics, with the left side flowing “Mary Magdalene” hair, and the right side “Madonna-like”, no facial features to give individuality; 

-The confident Man figure is more 3D, clad in a conservative suit made using the traditional Ravenna style of cubed tesserae (individual pieces that make up a mosaic); 

-The Son figure is also more 3D, sporting a peace sign on his t-shirt, jeans made from blue kyanite, and a gold lame bomber jacket done in gold smalti in the looser Spilimbergo style, ready to explore the world and all its offerings; 

 -There is no Daughter pop-up figure: just a hole in the book where she should be…  The “text” for her column of the page has tesserae removed, excised, and blank areas of no “words”.