by Deborah Curtis
In “Being”, the photography show currently at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Mt. Airy native Carmen Winant makes childbirth the theme in an arresting site-specific installation. She stays on focus with some 2,000 images of women giving birth, taped informally to both sides of the floor-to-ceiling gallery walls that comprise a narrow 20-foot corridor set within the group show. The riveting collage is made of photographs torn from books, pamphlets and other ephemera. The prestigious biennial group exhibition, always about an aspect of “new photography,” closes Aug. 19.
The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, New York Times and other publications have taken note of Carmen’s exhibit, “My Birth.” As ArtNet writes: “Impossible to take it in entirely from one vantage point … hard to look at it and hard not to. Mothers are shown in a variety of states — sweaty, bloody, agonized, exhausted, delirious or simply asleep. By many standards, the work is graphic. But the subjects are also completely natural … ”
A graduate of Germantown Friends School, Carmen, 34, said in a recent conversation, “I got a good art education there and especially connected to photography. It was probably the most important class that I took at GFS. Other art teachers like Denny Hecht and Elissa Sunshine fostered my love of art. I was as passionate as you can be as a photographer when you are still figuring yourself out.
“In high school I was motivated. I was also an athlete. The experience in running at GFS was profoundly influential to who I am now and how I do art work. I was a dedicated runner. It taught me a kind of discipline that’s required with the art that I make … Running connected me in some ways to think about the politics of my own body. I was a teenager, focused on the needs and wants of my own body. It segued to my life as a feminist and political person.”
Every two years, MoMA’s celebrated New Photography exhibition series presents urgent and compelling ideas in recent photography and photo-based art. This year’s edition, “Being: New Photography 2018,” shows 17 international artists, including Winant, who address how photography can capture what it means to be human.
It really isn’t possible to glance indifferently to the corridor of babies being born in Winant’s work as the viewer is front and center with mothers laboring, babies emerging and caregivers supporting them. Any immediate squeamishness is overtaken by curiosity, awe, memory, projection and one’s own imagination … “Childbirth times 2000” is an opportunity to enter the process and be influenced and changed in doing so.
Carmen was recruited to UCLA to run track and field and cross country. “And they have a world renowned art department. My professors like Catherine Opie and James Welling are both very established but also teachers. I felt there that it could be possible to be an artist in a meaningful way. It would not be trivial or superficial or self-involved or even financially impossible in a practical sense.”
For the exhibit at MoMA, Carmen worked collecting images on and off for seven months. “I was pregnant, already had a young child; he was only one year old when I began this piece. Lucy Gallun, the curator of this show at MoMA, reached out to me in July of 2017, asking if I would create a site-specific piece for the show. I had less than eight months to do it, and during those months I myself went into labor and gave birth on Jan. 3.” The show opened in March of this year.
“Being at MoMA is a fantastic space. Lucy Gallun was so supportive. The resources there, the number of visitors from all over the world … I’m less concerned with what is super spectacular looking than in continuing to grow as an artist.”
Others in the art world have been paying attention. In September, Carmen opens a show in Stockholm, Sweden, and it will be in Expo Chicago a few weeks later. Come November, she will have a show in Detroit at the artist-run gallery, Cave. This month, she will begin her tenure as the Roy Lichtenstein Endowed Chair of Studio Art at Ohio State University in Columbus, where she now makes her home.
For more information, visit carmenwinant.com