The range of Wendy Malinow’s imagination careens between the macabre and the fanciful. In her “Woodland Crown”, now on exhibit in the Mobilia show, “Objects of Status, Power and Adornment”, she has created a piece that explores all three of these concepts as well as suggesting other historic traditions.
Visually, a woodland inspired array of details adorn a base level ring that simulates a branch wrapped round. To this Malinow has added various renditions of horns, twigs, vegetation, and fungus. A green layer of polymer suggests a natural carpet with droplets of dew, while semi-precious stones are positioned at the tips of plant stems like the gems in a crown. Hanging from either side, leather lacing holds robin’s eggs, bird skulls festooned with feathers and other such natural debris.
While charming to look at and imagine in some version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, any crown is an inherent symbol of power. Royalty has come to be represented by the wearing of crowns be they societies of elves, citizens or servants. Even the lion, referred to as the king of the jungle, has a mane that forms a kind of crown around his head. Malinow’s “Woodland Crown”, complete with its own variety of jewels is worthy of a leader. Leadership not only represents power but implies status as well. Here, the conscious inclusion of gemstones, perhaps rare mushrooms, various twigs and bones in an upright and hierarchical presentation suggests value and by extension a certain status. And of course, wearing a crown is a form of adornment heightened by its special symbolism of power and status. So, while not a crown of gold and diamonds as one might more typically expect, this is indeed a woodland crown.
Malinow’s work then moves beyond the concept of the exhibition. The more obvious connection is to the Christian crown of thorns. The knobby, faux-wooden base ring is reminiscent of the simple round of Christ’s crown. The prongs holding the “gemstones” could very well be taken as thorns, and the various spiked forms are suggest growth but in places with a sort of supernatural force and aggressiveness. In Christian iconography, the crown of thorns is extended into an allusion via the thorns as a sign of sin to the fall of man. Malinow’s creation infers perhaps a wry but oblique connection to Eden as a woodland garden. A second connection can be made to the long history of Memento Mori. Many objects became part of a visual vocabulary that extends through centuries of western art. In this piece, skulls, bones, the fragility of birds’ eggs all remind the viewer that life is fleeting and to be ever mindful of one’s mortality. Malinow’s “Woodland Crown” is therefore also a nod to this concept through its dangling tethers tied with symbols of what once was. This recognition then brings one back to the understanding that power and status are fleeting human adornments.
“Necklace” by Cynthia Toops and Dan Adams is another polymer related work in the Mobilia exhibit.