With an academic background in artificial life and digital arts, Becky Flanders’ approach to her artistic practice borrows the “life-as-it-might-be” paradigm of artificial life’s philosophical modeling, deciphering the most essential processes of life and implementing them in new situations—confrontational images of the human body, ambiguously political fiber works, and sensual, kaleidoscopic photographs nodding towards some unknowable cosmos. These multifaceted interests and processes are, to Flanders, all connected—the political and the sensual both represented in our fractured and multiplicitous human experience. “We no longer live in a world, but in worlds.”
Becky Flanders’ fleshy, fractured, and fractal photographs make infinite multiverses of isolated body parts. The artist builds kaleidoscopes herself, with hand-cut mirrors and spray foam, using them as lens extensions to photograph her chosen subject matter in an all-analog and physical process. The resulting images are unnerving manifestations of the stuff we imagine we are made of at the most minute level: the sacred geometries of our bodies, biomes, and stardust. “I use them to photograph people, body parts, plants, flowers, leaves, berries, eyes, mushrooms, water…all sensual things. I am extremely inspired by the biota, and the Florida wilds and springs, by the sheer, undeniable force of life here that eats buildings left unattended.”
Flanders frequently uses her own body as the subject of these photos, using a remote to trigger the camera and additional mirrors to assist her in composing the shots. The kaleidoscopes are built to be touched, and held against the body while shooting; the sharp edges of cut mirror fragments softened and joined with spray foam. Flanders says she has also had models pose for the photos, however, the physical challenges of the compositions make this difficult—“Get into this cold water full of roots and plants and take your pants off and put this cut-glass object up against your most sensitive parts.”
In some of these photographs, there is visible evidence of the trappings of our more mundane existence, and the construction of the photos themselves—a fractal glimpse of flesh not contained in the inclined, infinitely reflective panes of the kaleidoscope’s framed composition, a carpeted floor, or the camera’s intruding lens. In this constructed multiverse, where “slight movements create radically different images,” there is a view into our own universe. “The singularity, nigh or not, is not yet upon us. We are still here, we still breathe and need, and the dirt still oozes between our toes and nourishes our squishy, needy bodies.”
In the series Standing Female Urination, the body becomes an actor with agency in the universe, rather than the stuff that holds it together. Subverting the art historical tradition of a decorative female nude, Flanders’ heavily constructed portraits depict the artist herself as the Venus of Willendorf, the Virgin Mary, and Ophelia, gracefully and intentionally posed, standing proudly, in the subversive act of releasing impressive streams of urine into various vessels. Other photos in the series depict the same quotidian act of urination, taking on a quality of anonymity and intimacy with the identity of the subject disguised and universalized through the point-of-view perspective of the image. The photographs are beautiful, defiant, and necessarily humorous, valorizing the abject and satirizing an overwrought Western art historical canon.
In a departure from the medium of photography, Flanders’ series Aphorisms and Fiber Works (2013-2014) takes on a more immediately political aesthetic, evoking Jenny Holzer’s Truisms. The flag-like, textual embroideries on linen are emblazoned with axiomatic statements such as “THE PAST IS A MURKY WASTELAND,” “A HORRIFYING MIX OF ORDER AND LIES,” and “I will follow you blindly into the blackest night.” These textile works are perhaps even more relevant now than when they were created, as we face a frightening and uncertain political future as a nation experiencing the nascent stages of fascism.
Flanders says about her theoretical influences and inclinations, “If I had to call out a theoretic camp for myself, I’d say I’m an anarcha-feminist, and a non-euclidean thinker. I prefer to act within my sphere of influence where I stand, to the greatest local effect possible, rather than try to influence the behavior of others from afar. I read books and consume information incessantly about all things that seem pertinent. I prefer to look outside of art as much as possible, but also within it.”
In addition to her expansive personal practice, Flanders is a member of Tampa-based photo collective Fountain of Pythons, as well as curatorial collective CUNSTHAUS, which has a gallery space in Tampa, and has recently embarked on a year-long project of curating feminist-oriented shows. She had a solo show in October of 2016, Motley Precious Planets, at Tampa non-profit gallery TEMPUS Projects, and was awarded an Individual Artist Grant by the Hillsborough Art Council in 2015. Flanders is extremely active within her local sphere of influence. She lists such luminaries as Cindy Sherman, Renee Cox, Annie Sprinkle, and Pipilotti Rist as her artistic influences, in addition to her own community of artists, friends, collaborators, and colleagues. She has an upcoming solo show opening March 18th at Portspace Gallery in Gulfport called Agua de Florida, which will integrate several seemingly disparate facets of her practice, as well as aspects of the artist’s studio space, such as collections of objects that inform her work and detritus from rituals involved in her practice. About the title of her show, Flanders says, “It is inspired by shamanistic as well as meditative practice, but also refers to the waters of Florida, the springs, the rivers, the aquifer, the rain.” Outside of her artistic and curatorial pursuits, Flanders is an entrepreneur. She owns a restaurant and bar, as well as a warehouse complex where her studio is located.
Becky Flanders’ approach to art production as well as life is one of critical awareness of the infinite possibilities and dimensions of our universe, as well as its interconnectivity. Flanders re-envisions the world as we know it (the body, truth, reflections, and the landscape) and builds a world as it could be. She rinses the star stuff off of her body in the Florida springs. “Florida is a strange place, need I say it. Sometimes I wonder if there’s something in the water. But I love it here—I’m not sure I’ll ever leave.”