Kathleen Volp’s “The Politics of Fear”

(Kathleen Volp's graphite "un-monuments" displayed in the Mazmanian Art Gallery from Oct. 6 to 27. By Amanda Martin)

Kathleen Volp said she never understood little girls’ obsessions with horses. She learned about male horses of war in art history and found it unusual that horses were generally feminized.

At her local thrift shop, Volp began collecting a variety of horse props during the 2016 presidential election, reflecting on certain qualities war horses possess, such as “maleness” and “aggression.” She proposed a connection between war horses and the current “testosterone-driven” political landscape, relating the “divisive” election back to western history, violence and war.

While analyzing the horse sculptures, former student Marjorie Anderson felt Volp was comparing today’s political climate to a “big giant pile of horse manure.”

Volp said, “I think we can agree that the tactics of the political campaign and what’s happening in politics really is a one-upmanship and it seems to be dominated by white males and western white male culture.”

Confederate monuments frequently involve horses, men riding horses and battling, said Volp. By creating a platform of smaller sculptures, which she calls “un-monuments,” she is deliberately addressing the multitude of massive confederate monuments and the overwhelming fear they illustrate to the public.

“Un-monuments” are more intimate, said Volp. “You have to go up close because it’s more one-on-one. … That’s very different from the way monuments stand. They are meant to overwhelm. These are meant to engage.”

Although large-scale monuments can be intense and communicate negative ideals, Volp said she is not thrilled about the ongoing removal of confederate statues in our country.

“I think when they go, we’re burying history and we’re burying the conversation that we should be having. I think we need to change the context around them or put them into context. … It’s ugly business, and we need to constantly be talking about it,” Volp said.

The materials Volp uses, including buffed graphite, plastic, nylon and rubber balls, convey the different values of colors and textures.

Volp coats her sculptures with powdered graphite instead of black paint to create a metallic-like cast, resembling the appearance of monuments. The graphite material forms a mechanical texture similar to gunmetal, simulating the mechanisms of war and holding a sense of gore, adding to Volp’s metaphor.

Senior Danielle Butler said, “Graphite is metallic, so it helps you correspond those ideas and mimics monuments on a smaller scale. If they were black, it wouldn’t help the connection.”

Volp commented on how the graphite unifies the “un-monuments.”

“It really highlights all of the details and textures and most importantly, the binding and the joining together of these different parts. … It preserves the texture in the original material at the same time,” she said.

Volp uses cheap plastic toys when starting her sculptures. She cuts the toys into pieces and patches them in different locations before coating the objects with acrylic mediums such as GAC, black adhesive coating, powdered graphite and in other cases, wax. The cheap materials, including plastic, rubber and nylon, are used to reflect upon the overwhelming amount of junk in the environment, the ocean and generally in life.

The nylon material, wrapped around rubber balls on the sculptures, make the conversation about power and horses overtly sexual, as to call out the misogynistic, anti-feminist Trump administration.

Volp’s sculpture, “spin,” depicts a graphite horse concealed underneath a pink plastic My Little Pony toy. The message here seems to be poking fun at young girls’ obsessions with horses.

“You know My Little Pony may go out of style 20 years from now, but I think it still holds true to this fairytale-like” aesthetic, Volp said.

Senior Emily Bowling said, “It definitely makes me look at animals differently. I feel like horses are usually depicted as peaceful, gentle beings, but here they look so satanic and demonic. Especially with ‘spin.’ It is in this My Little Pony disguise and you can kind of see its skeletal form underneath. It’s like using a children’s toy that’s supposed to be fun and friendly, but it’s just really creepy.” 

Butler said they were looking at Volp’s pieces the other day “associating them with American politics.” “spin” in particular felt “dressed up, but it’s really just … a prop,” they said.

Volp deliberately gets rid of color in her sculptures as a way to associate them with the political atmosphere, although “a little bit of color is intentional,” she said.

Her sculpture, “spin,” is not the only one containing colors other than gray graphite. The mixed media assemblage, “clowns to the left of me; jokers to the right,” portrays a large horse dressed up as a clown and a smaller horse behind the larger, juggling red and orange balls. Volp said the image is supposed to evoke a sense of pointlessness. A clown smile painted on the larger horse’s rear end, facing the smaller horse, acts as the communicator of propaganda.

Senior Rohma Shirwani said Volp is “repeating the same gesture” in her sculptures, specifically the representation of balls in relation to male dominance and power.

Volp’s sculpture, “fake news,” deviates from the rest, displaying a chicken’s body with a dunce hat for a head.

Dunce hat or Dunsman is a term used to describe “someone who is completely off their rocker,” said Volp.

John Duns Scotus, who was a Catholic theologian in the 1400s, theorized that if he wore a cone-shaped hat, he could funnel the spirit down through him and channel God, but the thought bordered on heresy and Duns became an embarrassment to the Catholic Church, she said. Volp related the story back to Trump and his phobia of fake news. The sculpture perfectly represents the cowardice of Trump in relation to real-world crises, as Volp refers to the fearful chicken from “Chicken Little” who screams, “The sky is falling!” 

Volp said, “As I began to move forward with this, it seemed like the anxieties became founded. … I want these works to be able to go forward because this is a cycle that we’re going to be seeing again and again.”

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