2016-05-26 / Front Page

Biddeford-Saco ArtWalk exhibit explores gender issues

Staff Writer

Portsmouth, New Hampshire- and Kittery-based artist Nancy Grace Horton is pictured Tuesday in front of her piece “Ms. Behavior.” The piece is just one of a collection of works featured in the exhibit “That’s What She Said” opening Friday at Engine in downtown Biddeford. 
ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune Portsmouth, New Hampshire- and Kittery-based artist Nancy Grace Horton is pictured Tuesday in front of her piece “Ms. Behavior.” The piece is just one of a collection of works featured in the exhibit “That’s What She Said” opening Friday at Engine in downtown Biddeford. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune BIDDEFORD — It started when she first saw “Thelma and Louise” in college. What followed was a lifetime passion for art and social dialogue inspired by the “thread of feminism,” as Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based artist Nancy Grace Horton described it.

Horton, who shares her time between Portsmouth and Kittery, is the creator of the multi-series exhibit “That’s What She Said,” opening Friday at Engine in downtown Biddeford as part of the monthly Biddeford and Saco ArtWalk, which takes place the final Friday of each month.

The exhibit, a collection of Horton’s previous work around femininity and gender and a premiere of new works around similar topics, will explore gender through the past and present using contemporary means. Featured works include several mixed-media pieces with photography as a prominent medium.

Included among the showings are “Mad Women,” a collection of photos inspired by AMC’s hit-series “Mad Men,” and “Ms. Behavior,” which explores female behavior and misbehavior as portrayed in the media. A new collection, “Mr./Mrs.,” a work in progress about what it means to be transgender, will have its premiere during the ArtWalk.

For Horton, “That’s What She Said” is a return to her roots as a photojournalist as she explores, through works of art, the psychological ways in which people look at women, gender and sexuality.

Horton said she began to think critically about women’s issues during her college years.

“I started thinking about what interests me and reading and how women were portrayed in the media,” she said. “That’s something I’ve always responded to, and not in a positive way.

“I started becoming more interested in doing my own work and the thread of feminism came in, and I’ve just been doing more conceptual work now but sort of speaking back to the journalism as well.”

Horton has been a freelance photographer and photography teacher for more than 20 years, including a stint as a visiting instructor at the Maine College of Art in Portland. With this particular exhibit, she aims to create a discussion around the sexualization of women and the ways in which gender is discussed in popular culture.

“I love the idea of terms that can be taken in different ways,” Horton said. “I think it’s fun to title this whole show (‘That’s What She Said’) because there’s different threads – there are women, and my new series ‘Mr./Mrs,’ which is actually on the subject of a man dressing as a woman, so it’s a play with words.

“I try to just bring light to (these issues) so people will think about (them) and maybe think about things a little differently, and see what they subscribe to maybe unconsciously, or make them second-guess some of the choices they make.”

The exhibit is timely as well as thought-provoking, said Tammy Ackerman, executive director of Engine.

“It’s such a timely subject, with the sexualization and ‘mediatization’ of women,” Ackerman said. “And with all those weird dichotomies that are happening right now – you know, we might have a female president and then there’s Donald Trump on the other side of things – it’s just kind of an interesting time.”

Horton stressed that women often may not realize when they are being exploited, sexualized or “mediatized,” as Ackerman put it. She said women should be encouraged to stand up for themselves, something she tries to achieve through her art.

“The photographs become a tool to have dialogue and open up people to sharing things with me that I never expected,” she said. “We should be taking a stand on (these issues) for the next generation.”

That dialogue will be explored in detail as spectators explore “That’s What She Said,” which ultimately begs viewers to ask the question: “What is a woman?”

Horton said this question becomes evident as viewers observe her new piece, “Mr./Mrs.”

“I’m interested in men who dress as women, and I’m shooting it in the same way I’m shooting ‘Ms. Behavior,’ which is fragmented narratives. And I’m finding that this is where it kind of circles back to the documentary of journalism,” she said. “I want to work with real people. I can dress a guy up as a woman, but I don’t want to do that. I want something authentic.”

“I’m learning a lot, because it’s not easy to find subjects,” she added.

To prepare for the collection and foster a better understanding of transgender life, last year Horton attended Fantasia Fair in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a week-long transgender event held every October.

Horton attributes the success of her latest exhibit to the creative nature of Engine and the variable nature of the space.

“The thing that’s great about this opportunity for me to show here, to be invited here, is that it’s not just a box ... I’m working with people that are excited about it, and want to try different things. We’ve got window displays, there’s a glass box over there, we’ve got sculpture, and I’ve got a screen and I’m going to show some video, which is newer for me,” Horton said, pointing in various directions around the space, which was still being set up for Friday.

Ackerman regards Engine as an “anchor for the ArtWalk.”

“The whole overarching umbrella is about creative economy,” Ackerman said. “(Engine is) a lot of different things. We bring people into the community from all different audiences – moms with kids, dads with kids, people who are artists that bring their artist-friends in, people that are shopping, tourists – it’s like a multi-prong attack on creative economy.”

“What’s exciting is the opportunity to put all this stuff together in an environment that’s really nurturing the arts, in a town that’s really up-and-coming,” Horton said about Biddeford. “I’ve lived in Portsmouth for 25 years, and it’s changed so much. This town, it’s still got the funk. We don’t want the funk to go away.”

The Saco ArtWalk is free and open to the public from 5-8 p.m. Friday. The exhibit will remain on display during Engine’s business hours until July 23.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com

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