What are little boys made of?
Snips & snails & puppy dogs tails
And such are little boys made of.
What are young women made of?
Sugar & spice & all things nice
Attributed to the poet Robert Southey (1774–1843) as part of a larger work, What Folks Are Made Of or What All the World Is Made Of. These are often the first words girls hear to define themselves. Repeated and repeated they could be sung with a coo, chided when you strayed beyond the role, or became a hard standard to be held to. Katie Hovencamp’s work is deeply rooted in Fairy Tales, those often cruelly dark stories meant to keep us in our assigned gendered places. The assignments of beauty and happiness in our time continue to spring from these tales. Hovencamp finds/creates cracks in the system, where she challenges as she puts it “the spaces between the dyad and its effects on gender, perceived beauty, and the body politic. “ The work itself is delivered in a variety of media, drawings, delicate, spare illustrations of tales slightly skewed. Soft, delicate, bows and collars cast in iron and bronze, for me make reference to chastity belts, firmly holding a young girl “in her place”. Video and photo documents of performances using her body as cultural media round out our experience. Collectively the work leads back to the same set of questions as we (not just women but our whole culture) seek to alter and redefine the roles and assessments we are caught in. Hovencamp’s garden of tender and raw images as well as objects create a space that is no stranger to conflict, yet invites a new empathetic look at how we got where we are.
By Nikki Moser