New York

Pat Oleszko

Rather than exploring fashion on its own terms, artist Pat Oleszko uses the techniques of absurdity and burlesque to point out the limits and controls these stereotypes have over our lives. In her films, performances and sculptures (“using the body as armature”) she assumes a stance almost directly opposite to Blell’s. For her, the artist is a misfit, a freak rather than a model to be idealized and emulated, and her concerns are those of physical (scale) and psychological (role) aberrations. She sees us as ultimately trapped in a standardized world and finds these standards inappropriate for everyone. She seems to feel that those who deviate the most from the norms are the most severely penalized.

Where Blell uses her “fortunate” bone structure, Oleszko exploits her grand size (about 6' 2") by starting off her performance with Pats Picasso (Down Pablo) in which she performs in a Three Musicians costume (which she constructed, as she does all of her costumes). Clearly she is telling us that she is big enough in every sense of the word to play three roles simultaneously—performer, filmmaker and sculptor. In this piece she too enlivens an art cliché, while hiding her actual physical qualities behind it. But unlike Blell, she distorts the conventions with her own outlandishness.

In her films, which alternate with live performances, she often reduces her scale and in so doing expresses an enormous, almost terrifying sense of the body’s vulnerability (similar to Hannah Wilke’s Snatch Shots with Ray Guns). In Little Footsie, Ms. Oleszko lets her fingers do the walking around the sidewalks of New York, in plastic doll shoes and little orlon socks. Interestingly, in the context of the live performances, this is much like a drawing—using the hand and focusing on a small segment of her total concern. Oleszko balances her rather cute concept with a macabre ending (Footsie gets her shoe and sock bitten off by a felt monster, to reveal a stumplike finger) as she does in Knee and Dimple, a film in which Oleszko’s knees have donned male and female “drag” for a “Hon-Knee Moon in Knee York” during which they are killed by a shark while skn-ee dipping at Jones Beach. In contrast to the bravura of Pats Picasso, in which art becomes armor, these films project a feeling of the body as prison, and any attempt at transformation through stylization or abstraction is ultimately doomed to frustration. Her paradigm suggests that the artist can be either protected (yet actually hidden) by conventions or revealed (but finally destroyed) by self exposure.

Maureen Connor