Sculptural Heads
Jane Brown
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      Karen Bamonteís sculptural heads are at once ethereal and visceral; their identities simultaneously archaic and yearning toward the future.


      Bamonteís rich choreographic career informs these works. The heads are about more than the crafting of three-dimensional space; they imply movement, both literal and emotional. Her most highly vaunted dance works often involved a weaving of movement with language, literature and unique music. In these heads she has simply reversed the order of hierarchy, so that the sense of movement and language are elements of the necessarily more static condition of sculpture.


      Bamonte has evolved her use of a membrane-like mesh to create the skin-armature of her subjects. The layers and folds of the mesh create multi-dimensionality. She manipulates it to create the interior space of the heads, sometimes stitching a more delicate metal mesh to further articulate facial features, sometimes using the empty cranium as a tableau for objects that may pierce or seem to be being violently expelled. These "foreign" objects often encapsulate the character of the head, as in one of the earliest pieces, Featherbrain.


      In the case of a newer work, Pulcinella, a black leather triangle forms the top of the head and an industrial zipper reaches down either side of the skull to embrace the jaw, suggesting the characterís famed great hook of a nose. The aggressiveness of these elements conforms to the dramatic persona, whose villainy has engendered shrieks of delighted horror from audiences young and old for hundreds of years. And yet, the zipper embraces a starkly contrasting, diaphanous face that is seemingly in deep contemplation or sorrow. The jaw line and elegantly curved "wings" at the top of the head, are also finely drawn, almost fragile. How could this beautiful face represent old Pulcinella? The work seems to be metaphoric, where cruel posturing masks the human conditions of loneliness and emotional poverty.

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      Earlier works in the series include the reclusive and elderly Benjamin and Lewis Jones twins, whose blank stare and mirthless smiles belie the cacophony of their brain activity that Bamonte renders with frayed strands of mesh wire gone berserk. Social freaks feel uncomfortably familiar.


      Quills that spring from the cranial spaces of her new "Warrior Series" have either been received in mortal combat or are the arms they will bear. In either case our fear of these beings and our sense of their immutable tragedy is simultaneously evoked. These newer works may embody the artistís response to the social conflagrations raging on so many fronts; her despair of the dual truth of warrior as victim and aggressor.


      While the heads are disconcerting in their evocation of profound isolation, primeval aggression and tragic passivity, there is something disarming and even alluring about them. They do not confront us, they do not meet our gaze, and so we are able to view them freely, almost voyeuristically, even as we are unconsciously moved to try to look toward their own vistas. It is then that we are moved by their power. They are larger than we; they are history and they are we now and they are our future, and all the words we try to conjure up to spare ourselves (including redemption), are embodied.


Jane Brown Milotich
California, 2004

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