Allie Pohl is bubbly and warm when she lets me into her home/studio located in Venice. Though she is easy going and quick to laugh it doesn’t take but a few minutes of listening to her talk about her work to realize that she approaches her practice with careful thought and consideration. She starts out showing me her latest fabricated “ideal woman.” It’s shiny, and very machine-made looking—an effect I don’t usually respond to when looking at art—but in Pohl’s case, the method is genuinely important to the message and I appreciate the care that’s gone into its creation. In fact, she shows me a video she recorded of several men gently polishing her latest sculptures in the factory. She laughs at the video, noting how caring the men are toward the forms.
Interested in beauty standards and beauty ideals, specifically the ideal woman form (though she has explored the ideal man as well), Pohl’s work is largely about Western society’s expectations of women. Though feminism is not a new idea in art, (who can forget the images of Judy Chicago’s Menstration Bathroom as part of Womanhouse from Art History class), Pohl has updated the concept for a contemporary audience. Pohl first came up with her ideal woman symbol while getting her MFA at University of Denver. Consumed with the notion of cultural trends Pohl marveled at how her peers, like clockwork, would set aside 45 minutes every month and go to get waxed. In undergrad years at Hamilton College too, she notes, she was fascinated with the idea of hair and hair removal. She ended up as a Communications major and wrote her thesis about the Peace Symbol—its rhetoric and trajectory. From here, the idea of how symbols come about really stuck with her and eventually the ideal woman form, the shape of a Barbie-esque figure spliced from upper thigh to waist—emerged clearly in her mind. The shape is simple and its meaning is easily surmised: her legs don’t touch, she has an impossibly small waist and, like Barbie, she’s glaringly anatomically incorrect. “It’s familiar, and yet so uncanny,” says Pohl. The mixture makes it a perfect candidate for a lasting symbol.
Today, Pohl recreates that symbol in multiple mediums and forms. Sometimes she makes 3D sculptures out of ceramic or fiberglass, sometimes they have chia or fabric embedded in their crotch. Othertimes she explores the form in 2D, mainly through her ideal woman jewelry line (recently seen on the likes of Lena Dunham’s instagram).
Pohl shows me some of her other projects. Her videos from when she strapped a camera to a pair of ungodly high heels and took a hike, literally, to capture the violence and intensity that is walking in a pair of uncomfortable shoes. There’s also her latest series called “Peacocking.” Pohl focuses her attention on the man’s perspective, ordering hand-embroidered “merit badges” based on the tradition developed by the Boy Scouts. They depict symbols representative of our stereotypical notions of male attractiveness. “Successful,” is a badge showing a watch and it demonstrates the way men portray success in the details of their appearance. “Able to Show Emotion” displays emotional emoticons, referring to the idealized, stoic and solid male. “Athletic,” “Bro,” “Confident,” “Good in Bed” and “Worldly,” similarly portray expectations that our society desires and rewards.
Polh is busy preparing for upcoming events such as SPRING/BREAK Art Fair in New York, a solo show in Ojai, California at Galerie102 and a group show in Delray Beach, Florida at the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture. Keep an eye out for her and her ideal woman symbol. In fact, I just spotted a series of rainbow sticker ideal women on the back of the Vine St FedEx building…
More on Allie at www.alliepohl.com.
*images courtesy of ArtBlitzLA and Allie Pohl