Michelle Carnes

Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts

Dirty Girl Rising – Can you Dig it? is a self-conscious scrutiny of my odd individuality through self-portraiture. I turn the lens on myself, and explore the female gaze, both inwardly and back onto the viewer in a series of “dig” self portraits. I excavate the dirt to bring forth my inner witch. However, self-portraiture is not always about the self. By using my image as the starting point for my work, I become both subject and artist. I experienced how representation can shape a woman’s constructions of herself, navigating expectations, roles, body image and projected stereotypes. I explore feminine expression through self-portraiture as an important mode of feminist response to the subjection of women. I address the larger issues of women thought of as mythical creatures, beasts, and evil — consumption of nature and creativity equaling consumption of the feminine. Indoctrinated to perpetually produce and consume, the act of digging representing woman’s work – on our knees. This kneeling position is accentuated by my chosen composition and size to contain the figure. When the figure stands, she will no longer “conform” within the boundaries dictated to her. Like the earth, she possesses the ability to create naturally and choose freely, which is antithetical to the patriarchal constructs that contain her, and a threat to the religious concept of a ruling male god who magically procreates without women. To create these works, I used rocks, sand, water, oil paint, mediums, wax, sound and digital media to immerse myself with the natural spaces around me, creating images escaping through portals, shapeshifting and conjuring supernatural forces of empowerment. In an effort to defy erasure, I chose to create work that utilizes the muscle memory of working by hand, building upon layers, digging and carving in the paint and in the digital realms in a disruptive manner. I’m reminded of the significance of what is beneath the layers as I reexamine, redefine, and reclaim new activated pathways.