Genesis Belanger: Simpsons episode about the uncanny

Genesis Belanger’s surreal sculptures fuse together everyday objects and food with human-like features, fashioning a delicious disembodiment. Within her clay creations, you can find little remnants of the body such as a finger, an eyeball, or a tongue. Martini glasses, lighters, and flower bouquets are transformed from ordinary objects to surreal, anthropomorphic creatures. Inspired by the type of imagery found in advertisements, Belanger’s work embodies the uncanny, cleverly and often humorously changing an object into something wonderfully strange, leaving you wondering if you will ever be able to look at a simple lamp the same way again.

In Belanger’s body of work, the object becomes an extension of the self — it doesn’t just represent a person, a human body, but is now part of it, sprouting feet and hands of its own. Each sculpture is both irresistibly fun and somewhat startling. Together, her works create a bizarre funhouse where boundaries of the body are broken and our relationship with the items around us is turned on its head.

Belanger earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA from CUNY Hunter College in NYC. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she has exhibited at places like Mrs. Gallery, Derek Eller Gallery, and NADA. Join us as we discuss with the artist her “strange but familiar” imagery and her unique process integrating her sculptures into exhibition installations.

AMM: How did you get your start in the arts? When did you begin to realize that you wanted to pursue a career as an artist?

GB: I have always known that I wanted to be an artist, but in a very naive way. When I was young, I didn’t see much difference between art, design, and fashion. If you were inventing something out of nothing, you were an artist. After working in some of these other fields I stated to see the nuance of what makes them different. While I will always respect the parameters of the fashion, advertising, and design industries, I wanted more freedom.

AMM: Tell us about the anthropomorphic objects that your sculptures often take the form of. What is your interest in the human body, or rather, limbs and digits?

GB: Our relationship to objects is a complex one. Objects become surrogates and markers of our identity. In my work I like that to get slippery and literal. For the objects to be bodies. I am particularly attracted to hands and limbs because of the way advertisements sever these parts of women’s bodies. A well-manicured hand can sell just about anything.

AMM: Many of your works are created from porcelain. What other materials do you use in your sculptures? What techniques do you use to get such rich hues as well as soft pastels?

GB: I use other clay bodies, (stoneware specifically) as well as concrete and metal.
I don’t use glaze. I allow most of my clay bodies to be their natural color, and some of my favorites have a satin finish. I also pigment my porcelain.

AMM: We love your depiction of everyday objects. Would you say you draw your influence from your personal surroundings, the small details of your day-to-day?

GB: Absolutely. I used to collect trash. I really like how our things tell a story in our absence. The odd little things on our bed side table or left on a park bench become portraits of a person and a specific point in time.

AMM: Your sculptures often have uncanny qualities that are not unlike those of the surrealists, in particular, the work of René Magritte. Do you draw influence from this movement or from a specific artist that was involved?

GB: I am tangentially interested in surrealism. The surrealists were interested in our psychology. I am interested in advertising. Advertising uses our psychology to manipulate and understand our desires. This is fascinating to me. I suppose I am interested in surrealism, but via pop.

AMM: You often switch out certain objects for bizarre alternatives that have a similar shape or appearance. Can you tell us about this object association and perhaps the humor behind it?

GB: I think this is where the uncanny comes into play. We are already very comfortable reducing our ourselves and others with objectifying language, and we are equally comfortable to anthropomorphize objects. By making objects that operate using these familiar mechanisms, I am in a way making them uncanny. Familiar but strange. My world, however, is a bit more like if there were a Simpsons episode about the uncanny.

AMM: Tell us about your solo show “Cheap Cookie and a Tall Drink of Water” at Mrs. Gallery. Your work was installed in a unique, non-traditional way. Were you involved with the installation process?

GB: I think of my work as an installation. I start every project with the floor plan and a loose narrative. I build the objects and the display furniture to work together to create an environment. At Mrs. I made a kitchen counter, a café table you’d fine at a mall or in a park, and a series of end tables all in concrete. The way these pieces coupled with the ceramics were arranged created subtle vignettes. This is also how I thought about my NADA project. I built the ceramics and the display to operate together to create a scene at a parlor or lounge at the end of the night, with just the strange remains left for us as clues we can use to piece together the narrative.

AMM: In your own artistic practice, what would you say is the biggest obstacle to overcome?

GB: The weather. Clay is a finicky bastard and because I leave my clay bare all the imperfections show, from every tiny crack, to every seam line. These imperfections are largely the result of the temperature and humidity at the time the piece was made and during the drying process. I am always fighting this east coast weather.

AMM: How do you see your work developing over the next 5 years?

GB: I want to start making outdoor projects. Creating bigger work in an ever expanding range of materials.

Find out more about the artist: www.genesisbelanger.com

Text and interview by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.