When I walked into OUTLET Fine Art the other night for the opening of Beneath the Skin, an exhibition featuring the pseudo-sculptural objets d’art of Cristin Richard, the incredible beauty and the delicacy of the works immediately struck me. Suspended from the ceiling were translucent garment bags with crimson colored dresses peaking through. A soundtrack of trans-inducing music of Nate Czarling subtly blaring from the other room as I walked amongst the boutique-like surrounding, catching glimpses of my reflection in the high-finish works by Joseph Moore. I was enjoying the seemingly store-like aesthetic of the work around me when, press release in hand, I came to understand fully what I was really looking at.

Hog intestines.

I don’t consider myself to be squeamish or fearful of organic matter, but this was still an unexpected turn. The works suddenly took on a whole new look; I was no longer seeing just the dresses floating throughout the space, but rather slabs of meat as if preserved within a meat locker. The two images began to conflate in my head; meat morphing with the slim silhouette of a woman’s figure, and the show took on an entirely new meaning.

Cristin Richard poses with her breathtaking pieces

Full of double entendre and a refusal to settle on a single connotation, the work of artist Cristin Richard thrives between contrary narratives, constantly keeping the viewer off balance. Beyond her unexpected materials, the work is anything but one note. The artist’s incorporation of performance, sound, and sight all into a single exhibition create a full sensory experience.

During the opening and later over the phone, Richard explained to me how she ended up using hog intestines. “I actually was a vegetarian,” she admits, when she says she first became enthralled by the Inuit’s culture’s use of seal intestines to make parkas fifteen years ago. “They would get down to the nitty gritty and use the intestines. I was really captivated by the way they used these materials.” This use of all of the animal down to its innards, led Richard to experiment with different methods of preparing cow, hog, and lamb intestines into yardage of “cloth.” Fueled by interests in fashion, feminism, and the disposal commodities of developed countries, Richard’s pieces create a beautiful yet slightly macabre intersection of these conflicting modalities.

Opening night at OUTLET

Listening to Richard describe her process, not only is she directly connected with her medium, completely involved from beginning to end, there is a deeply conceptual aspect to her work. Just as she balances multiple competing dualities in her themes and influences, her work hovers somewhere between process-driven materiality, conceptual, and even performance based work. My art historical brain immediately jumps to her artistic predecessors, like Joseph Beuys’s felt suits, Janine Antoni’s Slumber, and even Damien Hirst’s infamous pursuits with sharks and formaldehyde.

The most prevalent influence on Richard’s work that we kept coming back to in our conversation, was the disrobing (yes, pun intended), of the costumes, or skins, that we use to protect ourselves to get through the day. Whether it’s a corporate woman’s armor of stilettos and a power suit, or a certain look we use on the subway to avoid unwanted attention, or even the name we call something to mask a less savory connotation (leather vs. cow skin). We use these literal and figurative skins both to allow ourselves to confront and relate to the world around us.

Jackie O’Shaughnessy brings life to Richard’s Pieces

Along with the soundtrack of Czarling’s electronica and a video piece by Matthew Caron, the full-sensory experience of the space could easily get you caught up by the stimulation, yet also allowed each conflicting sight or sound to resonate more deeply. In the opening night performance by artist Jackie O’Shaughnessy, we see Jackie dressed in one of Richard’s couture creations on display on a spinning pedestal, reminiscent of Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer bronze, yet a more mature version. Completely playing with the youth-obsessed fashion industry, Jackie stands tall, vibrant, and fully present in Richard’s all-white creation. She doesn’t sink beneath the clothing, but rather becomes part of it; skin to skin, fully embracing this new layer, not hiding but reveling in it.

There is a slight fear about an artist’s use of an unexpected material; is it shock-and-awe, or is it all about the novelty. Here, Richard’s utilization of this novel material is anything but hokey or gimmicky; rather, it offers a much fuller range of meaning, asking more questions than it answers, and goes much further than skin-deep.

Beneath the Skin, featuring artists Cristin Richard + Matthew Caron, Nate Czarling, and  Joseph Moore, opened on October 10th and will be on view through November 2nd, at OUTLET Fine Art.