- Pamela Polston
- "Billy Bounty Hunter's Trophy Wall: Abortion Heads of Texas" by Teresa Celemin
The women's faces are distorted, eyes askew, makeup smeared. Most have long, limp hair. Their heads are affixed to glittery green boards and assembled together for "Billy Bounty Hunter's Trophy Wall: Abortion Heads of Texas." This is the first-place winner in the South End Art Hop's juried show. The 30th annual Burlington festival took place over the weekend, but the exhibition, in the Vaults building on Howard Street, is on view until December 10.
Event Details Art Hop Juried Show
Teresa Celemin's mixed-media installation, 75 by 46 inches, might seem merely quirky at first glance: quickly sketched (if laboriously produced) heads made of papier-mâché, wigs and colorful paint. But if the idea of women's heads mounted on plaques sounds grisly, wait until you read the backstory: A Celemin-penned faux newspaper article — datelined 2037 — accompanying the artwork begins: "Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion advocacy organization, unveiled its first human trophy wall on Wednesday..."
It's no surprise to learn that Celemin took her cue from the U.S. Supreme Court's dismantling of abortion rights — as well as reports of "bounties" for those who report on suspected abortions taking place in Texas. She just leapt to a dystopian extreme.
"I was distraught after Roe fell," Celemin said in a phone interview. "I was like, Fuck it, man. I was so angry. I need to funnel this anger into a creative voice, to use my art as a voice, as a weapon, because this is war."
The Hinesburg artist did not hold back. "I have this dark sense of humor anyway," she said. "I was thinking, What's going to happen? And I came up with this — obviously influenced by The Handmaid's Tale."
"This" was the idea of said bounty hunters not just snitching on but exterminating women who dared to take control of their own health care — and gleefully displaying their taxidermy heads.
Celemin went for something else in this piece: artistic abandon. Describing herself as a kid who "didn't fit in" at school, she was formally trained at the Parsons School of Design and New York Academy of Art. She learned to draw and paint realistically and believed she had to prove herself in a male-dominated art world. But during a recent residency at Vermont Studio Center, Celemin said, she reclaimed her inner wild child.
Before making the trophy heads, she said she thought back to first grade and making papier-mâché. She laughingly described the challenge of working with the medium: "It's wet paper over a balloon!" But Celemin relished the newfound lack of control. "Next I want to do something about Ethel Rosenberg," she declared. "And I have all these other ideas to do with heads."
Here's a funny fact: David Griffin, the juror for the Art Hop show, had no inkling of the story behind Celemin's construction when he chose it for first place. He initially looked at the artworks on slides, he explained, without titles or artist's names. Or fake newspaper articles.
"I was mostly taken with the colors, the materials," Griffin said in a phone call. "I thought I was looking at something about gender identity, gender fluidity. But I was glad it brought attention to the Texas bounty hunters and the abortion issue.
"I'm not surprised to learn that [Celemin] is trained," he added, "because the impact is sophisticated."
Griffin, a longtime graphic designer in Burlington, was on the board of the organization that later became the South End Arts + Business Association and was an early organizer of events that would gel into the Art Hop. "I don't want to take credit away from Melanie [Brotz], who did the first one," he said.
After living in Florida for a number of years, Griffin returned to Vermont this year. This is his first time as juror of an exhibition that he helped to launch so long ago. "I've been having an incredible summer, so this just fell into place," he said.