Domesticity and Gender: New Gelb Gallery Exhibit Draws Attention to Socially Constructed Boundaries

Adorning Western business attire, faceless women crawl across the projection of “Radical Home,” a video installation by Dominique Zeltzman, Visit- ing Scholar in Art. In the back- ground, a voice asks, “Are you being stalked? Do you wish you were me? Is someone bothering you? What are you going to do now?” while the word “mama” repeats in the periphery.

“Radical Home” is one of the exhibits in the Gelb Gallery along with “Continuum,” which features video stills from “Radical Home,” both created by Zeltzman. Zeltzman states in her artist statement that the installation was projected on three walls as a means to rediscover the three-dimensionality of dance within a two-dimensional projection.

“The [installation] is inspired by the idea of the container as a social construct. When you get yelled something on the streets – something based on your gender or your race or your age or your socioeconomic class – you are immediately shoved into that container. In the play ‘Slut’, when the girls are calling each other ‘slut’… they are using all these words that are meant to push them down and keep them in their place, but they [reclaim the word]… It is taking ownership of something… and keeps you empowered,” said Zeltzman.

According to Zeltzman, her installation is about domesticity. When Zeltzman became a single mother, she found herself deal- ing with this aspect of her life more often. Her work shows the female body in confining spaces, contrasting two containers of identity – femme drag and the domestic life.

“The idea is that I have domestic images and I am interested in the peripheral, the stuff that we don’t consider interesting. [A background of the video] is the corner of the underside of my daughter’s bed. That is not important. You might not even clean that place. You certainly wouldn’t put it on a wall in a gallery because it is just not important,” said Zeltzman.

The woman in the installation is wearing business clothes and her hair is done up, representing the traditional female corporate executive attire. According to Zeltzman, she comes home every day and she becomesa “slob” and an artist. She felt like she had to hide this evening look from the daytime look, a feeling that is shared amongst many women.

“Part of my research is about claiming the domestic space as worthy of attention and the domestic is often attributed to the female and art is usually male. 98 percent [of art], if not 100 percent [of art] in museums are male. Actually, most graduate student artists are female. We don’t need more women studying in art, they are already there, we just need to look at their work as worthy. Not all women deal with the domestic but definitely if you deal with the domestic, you are not paid attention to, with a few exceptions of women and men who have work in major museums,” said Zeltzman.

The audio of the installation is a 20-minute recording of a list of questions and a constant “mama” in the background. The audio is meant to sound like the internal rambling of the woman in the installation.

“All that stuff that runs through our head can become really exhausting. It can also be funny. So some of the things she says [in the audio] is really serious. For example, is your mother dead? I got that from one of the background photographs… A lot of [the audio] is little stuff that my daughter said. The repeating ‘mama’ is a kind of thing you hear all the time when you are a mother and it just becomes part of the background… And then there is stuff like, ‘Why is my house such a mess? Who is going to hire me? Why am I complaining? Why aren’t I useful?’ – that kind of inner chatter. So it is all questions, some are directed at other people and some are about myself, and then some of them I took from the Internet,” said Zeltzman.

Across from the installation is “Continuum.” Still frames from the video are shown on a small scale in a long strip, simulating a video timeline.

“I had technical constraints. I was only able to show [“Radical Home”] one other time. I even wanted to show it at Baltimore Museum of Art and they said they did not have enough money to show it because it requires so much equipment. If a museum can’t do it, small galleries definitely can’t. I was going to show it somewhere so I made it like this. It was hung in a corner so it was kind of the same thing and you could move around in it. I also like calendars and timelines and this looked like a timeline to me,” said Zeltzman.

The installation is on display from February 12 to April 5.