Helen Yvonne Engelke

Artist Catalogue

Virtual Exhibition

Pliancy Continuum

Some would say that to be human, is to be in a ceaseless state of growth and adaptation to our environment and those who impose change upon it; this experience is often understood to be closely intertwined with the female body and a women’s existence within our widely patriarchal society. She may stretch, shrink, weaken, toughen, and mould herself to the influence of external forces, in attempts to maintain a sense of control in her outwardly projected identity – aspiring to portray a truly feminine body and mind, both of which are expected to be in a permanent state of perfection. Many believe that achieving the Classical quintessential body, is to be the epitome of a woman in the eyes of a misogynistic system. My body of work aims to challenge and subvert the traditional beliefs that require women to mould, shape, and present themselves according to external opinions, by drawing on my own experience of my adolescence within a traditionally gendered environment. I embrace and encourage the abject that arises from my bioplastic viscera and my assemblages that intermingle with the classically feminine craft of crochet, as well as finding resolve in the iconography of the spider, the organic forms that emerge from the nature of her web and my associations of the web, the spider with the adaptability demanded of the female body and mind. Pliancy Continuum considers how the grotesque may live alongside perceived perfection as this project explores the concept of abjecting the physical female body, but also considering how abjection exists as a “psychic register to the bodily” (Russo, M. 1994:9) of female identity. The healing introspection that manifests in the repetitive actions of my practice such as felting, crocheting, plaster mould casting and the processes of creating bioplastics and stiffening agents, allows for a meditative acknowledgement of the raw complexities of human existence to arise, rather than placing judgement upon these lude, forcibly hidden facets of womanhood that are silenced within a conservative environment. Pliancy Continuum aims to act as a self-portrait, taking form in a three-dimensional installation, becoming a physical representation of my projected ‘perfect self’ born from gendered familial spaces where I was forced to adapt and censor myself; my hidden, flawed, ‘grotesque’ femininity shrouded by this façade. I wish to unveil and acknowledge these nuances of my being through the dramatically differing elements of this work, visually depicting the intricacies of feminine identity through the equally complex creature – the arachnid. This work intends to offer a space for women who feel a disconnect from traditional social values, to see a reflection of themselves and consider how they may have forcibly adapted to external opinions, however, to simultaneously recognise the beauty in the grotesque; that every part has an equally important role to play in the complex whole of female identity.