Barbara Aubin

Fairweather Hardin Gallery

Barbara Aubin’s collages are several layers thick with beads, buttons, pearls, cameos, necklaces, ribbons, brooches, hair ornaments, stuffed birds, artificial flowers, embroidered buttons, lace—and other objects which she has called “reference material” for “a woman’s life.” These collections are arranged in glass-front cabinets or shadow-box frames giving them a treasure chest appearance. Vivacious details and contrasting sensuous textures raise questions of how or whether the objects were altered, where they originated, how old they happen to be, if they ever were used, where Aubin found them, how well the new things fit with the old, what sort of person would assemble such a collection.

The main problem here, paradoxically, is a lack of real content. Titles such as Flight of the Bumblebee or Me, Myself, and I offer clues as to why scores of pipe-cleaner bumblebees are arranged in interlooping spirals or why hair ornaments may surround a drawing; but for the most part Aubin acts as a collector, sorter and arranger who puts it all out to see. So the “subject” of these collages becomes either Aubin’s admiration for the objects, or lush materialism per se. I also suspect that she has a lingering fascination for that pedestal that women have managed to step down from.

I like Aubin’s work. It has nothing of urban conflict or psychological trauma. Just compare an Aubin presentation to an Audrey Flack painting in which the polishes, mirrors and pearls produce a glittering facade, a sort of television-screen dream showing the commercial decadence of stuff used for personal ornamentation. In contrast, Aubin displays her objects in a format which emphasizes their turn-of-the-century hand craftsmanship.

But what of her claim to be linked by this work to “our heritage as women?” Surely it must be recognized that not all women have had the time, budget or personal inclination to indulge in such decoration. Significantly, Aubin presents this “specialness” as relic of the past, encased and “safe” to observe, primary source material for a time when object attachment carried very different implications.

C. L. Morrison