below the surface (2012-2014)

In this series of photographs, tubers, roots and fruit take the place of repeating floral patterns in the surface decoration of wallpapers and textiles. Bulbous red beetroots, bright green kohlrabi, long white radishes and bumpy bitter melon are transformed into geometrically organized mosaics, challenging assumptions about domestic surface design traditions, creating an alternative concept of beauty.
Roots are the parts of plants that grow and spread beneath the ground – the descending axis of the plant, which keeps a plant stable and secure. Roots draw water and nourishment from the soil, swelling and storing food energy, which humans traditionally harvest for food.
Roots take on metaphoric meanings for human society: we speak of someone being 'rooted', 'grounded', 'discovering' or 'returning' to one's roots – or getting to the 'root of a problem'. Bitter gourds, with their bumpy exteriors, and lantern-shaped habanero hot peppers are peculiar looking fruit with unexpected tastes, considered unpalatable by many.
Fruits and vegetables figure in literary and artistic allusions, where a long vegetable or a round fruit can highlight erotic associations, with their anthropomorphic shapes. Food metaphors sometimes relate to notions around sexual desire, like having 'an appetite' or culinary uses, that are considered 'an aphrodisiac'.
The artist has constructed every component that makes up the installation: the generation of textiles, costume design, the installation, performance and the photography. While sitting in kitchens and dining rooms, the women featured in this pattern-based series may clutch a daikon radish or press a beetroot to the lips, playing with representations of power and feminine roles.
For the months of October and November, the works are currently on view at Parlor Hair Studio, a progressive salon where women engage in the rituals of making-beautiful, while taking a pause to consider art. Some may choose styles suggested by society, but women have always cultivated and experimented with beauty, for our homes and for the presentation of our personal, embodied identities.
This series offers an aesthetic alternative for the normative spaces of domestic life, and the work is also intended as 21st century encouragement to honor the lives of plants we eat as food, to celebrate their potential for beauty, and to continue to claim the pleasure we take in beauty for ourselves.

Capsicum annuum, 2014 from gwen charles on Vimeo.

Thank you to Cheryl Morse, Dorene Oakley and Liz Seaton.