It began when the two artists notified the RMWI that the pieces they planned to create for the Associates Showcase this year would feature social commentary: about the institute because they felt it hadnt supported them enough. This led to a couple of angry phone messages from RMWI executive director Elizabeth Braden, in which she instructed the artists that We cant have that: and that We dont support social commentary.: Murphy and Pettus responded with a registered letter asking for Braden to clarify her comments. The letter did the trick: The RMWI completely backed down, and the show went on.
But not before another situation presented itself: The host of the show, the Ironton Studios and Galleries, became very uncomfortable with the idea of social protest in the exhibit. We chose the RMWI show because we wanted to support the Womens Institute,: says Ironton director Deana Spinuzzi. If wed known there was going to be controversy, we wouldnt have chosen it.:
Their anxiety was mostly for naught. The messages within the installations by Murphy and Pettus are not just subtle, theyre downright covert. Murphy uses a tape recording of Bradens phone messages as a soundtrack, but its been slowed down so much that its impossible to understand (unlike the real-time version I listened to). Pettus has cut up correspondence between the artists and the RMWI and arranged them on the floor, but you have to crawl into the piece to read them.
For Murphys Couched,: a pair of couches and an easy chair have been hung at eye level. Hanging below them are their removed back panels, on which Murphy has created crude paintings. Its an idea Ive had for a long time,: she says. Its about how couches are more important to some people than paintings.: (Gee, I wonder whom shes referring to?)
Fed a Line,: by Pettus (detail above), combines cut-up photos of chairs and figures suspended above the floor by wires hanging across the room. Ive used chairs and figures for a million years,: Pettus says. The chairs are metaphors for support, of having something to lean on.: Combining this imagery with the title makes clear Pettuss sentiment: The promised support from RMWI was not forthcoming.
Murphy and Pettus have both said that their aim is to reform the RMWI, but I doubt these fairly polite installations will get the job done.