Allison Kotzig / Death Mask of the Fertile Crone curated by Odette Artiles
Allison Kotzig / Death Mask of the Fertile Crone
Allison Kotzig’s oeuvre is raw and untamed, a provocatively tongue-in-cheek opus, and quite beautiful in a primordial sort of way. Her work carries an innate sense of mysticism and recalls folkloric aspects associated with nature, mythological creatures, dark magic, and the divine feminine that binds it all. Allison’s works are conceptual by nature and focus on fertility, sex, and the life-death-rebirth cycle. To put it plainly, they are vibrant and untraditional, and that is precisely the beauty of it all. The sheer liveliness of her pieces is what causes the viewer to think about the themes behind it rather than admire the objective beauty of a simple aesthetic. It shocks you into contemplating the work and guides you into intrigue, understanding and finally admiration. This can be clearly seen in the following works at the Kendall Art Center The Rodríguez Collection’s exhibition SOFLO: New Art, Nest and Ouroborous: Death Mask of the Fertile Crone.
Picture an open black nautical shell, tightly woven with black fibers sitting unassumingly on the floor and you pretty much have a good description of Nest. However, the most interesting part of any work has, as much to do with the artists’ process as the actual finished product itself and the remarkable aspect of her work is that Allison is completely self-taught. By using found objects and recycled materials like the plastic fibers, which comprises Nest, she adds another level of analysis in terms of her relationship with art and nature, spontaneity and authenticity. Any of these materials could easily be traditionally purchased, but the process of collecting and discovering is ultimately more important for Allison, very much in tune with her contagiously adventurous spirit.
The symbolism behind her work, and the key to understanding it, largely stems from one principal place: The Forest, more specifically, the Carpathian forest just outside of her chosen home of Slovakia. The Forest in numerous genres, has always been seen as the sacred unknown, revered yet precarious, where things are born and yet go to die. Under the canopy of trees and within the frame of fog the forest signifies femininity, the unconscious and the hallowed. Since it resides outside of civilization and cultivation, throughout religions and different cultures it exists as a kind of Other, a place outside of reason and logic, and yet all the more holy because of it. A key threshold in legends and fairytales where strange otherworldly creatures inhabit, a place of testing, a wild, unexplored realm in sharp contrast to the orderly comforts of home where heroes meet perilous obstacles, encounter death and outlaws call home. A den of ancient fears and magic, Forests have long infected the imagination of storytellers and artists for centuries and Allison is no different. In this particular work, she takes the immortality of Slovakia’s Carpathian forest and transforms it into a place of nurturing; she plays off of the imagery of the forest as a mother from which all life is born, and like a mother she provides sanctuary. This shell-like, darkly woven nest recalls a sense of safety, a place of gestation, a womb of creation, and as its threads indicate, the interconnectivity of all things in nature. According to Allison, the nest is “an elaborate personalization of space, an individualization even as it contributes to the collective,” which is an inherently feminine ability to make a home where there is none, to corral danger, create security and most importantly, (like a how a nest is a structured home made from rubbish and debris), women make sense of chaos.
Ouroborous, an “umbrella term,” Allison clarifies, deals with any of her work “having to do with a pelvic bone.” Despite this, Ouroborous: Death Mask of the Fertile Crone is arguably her most compelling piece. It’s origins lie, once again, in Slovakia’s forests, the source of Ouroborous. Ouroborous is a deliciously complex piece, saturated with symbolism with a host of meanings and rich ideas. To begin, as previously stated the forest represents superlative forces specifically speaking the unconscious, whether it is a subconscious fear of the unknown or the wariness afforded to a divine space, the forest then can arguably be seen as a means of communication; it inspires ideas, instills fear and even sanctified religious beliefs. Allison connects to this idea as she chillingly recalls the encounter that birthed the piece: in Slovakia, driving along a foggy road at 3 O’clock in the morning with a companion. “As we were driving this beautiful deer suddenly jumped in front of the car, like in the middle of the road,” putting aside the joy and uniqueness of the moment, Allison credits the deer for what happened next, because it caused the car to slow down and allowed her to see the shadowy figure on the side of the road. Ominously quiet, a woman with long black hair and bone-white skin was standing mutely, resolute as Allison asked if she needed help. Eventually, the pair drove off leaving the woman behind as just another ghost story. However, Death Mask of the Fertile Crone is a subconsciously derived portrait of the woman, the bovine pelvic bone acts as the woman’s pale face, long tendrils of black plastic threads spread like wings and fashion her into a powerful spirit. Its almost as if, Allison emphasizes, that the forest was speaking through her and gave her a source of inspiration with which to communicate her ideas about femininity and fertility.
The aspect of fertility in this piece is two-fold as follows: its relation to the archetype of The Crone in pagan and ancient cultures and the pelvic bone as the representation of the pictogram Ouroborous. In respect to the former, Allison takes to the model of the Triple Goddess, a pagan trinity that portrays the beginning, middle and end of one’s life, the Maiden, Mother and Crone respectively. The Crone is the archetype that embodies the final stage of one’s life, old age, beyond the ability to bear children and throughout history has evolved in meaning and connotation. The Crone is the most misunderstood and frightening of the three, as she represents our decay and inevitable destruction. Much of this historically has to do with the Inquisition and the corruption of the Catholic Church towards these revered tribal women, associating the word Crone with denizens like Witches and Hags. However, the detrimental title of Crone was originally derived from the old English word for ‘crown,’ which Allison gifts her by crowing her with magnificent hair that spreads like wings, giving her a sense of fruitfulness, abundance and power.
The latter aspect, Ouroborous, comes from the Greek word meaning “Tail Devourer,” and is one of the world’s most ancient symbols. The circular serpent endlessly eating its own tail to sustain life, like the Triple Goddess, is a symbol of infinity and the cyclicality of life and nature. To Allison, the pelvic bone is the perfect illustration of the Ouroborous image; an object irrevocably linked to death and yet, at the same time, the architecture of conception, the house of the womb, and like the world serpent it fosters life from death like the budding soil after a charring flame, an ever-existing rotation of creation from destruction. The raw nature of Allison’s pieces are a primordial, holistic emblem of the purity of the divine feminine and communicates her exploration of feminine power, the wild untamable beauty of the forest and the metaphysical structure of time and eternity. Ouroborous: Death Mask of the Fertile Crone and Nest represent the duality of all things made tangible and visible, a beautiful visualization of antiquated characters with historically strong ties to the feminine in ancient cultures spanning thousands of years including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Phoenicians. Actually, to the Nords for example, Jormungand the world serpent is the guardian of life, born from the magnificent Angrboda, a powerful giantess; it can be concluded then that Jormungand or Ouroborous and the Forest represents the underlying foundation of the universe and the pillars of life.