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Breaking the Glass Ceiling with Baby on Board in Stiletto Heels

March 19, 2016

As I grow older it’s a lot harder to get myself jazzed about driving all over the state to catch a show or performance.  Having heard about the infamous Melanie Manos for years, I  was going to make the effort this time. I have to say she’s kind of a Michigan Feminist Art Superstar according to most people in the art world. I’m ashamed it’s taken me this long to finally meet her and see her perform.  I learned today she has even been interviewed by our own Carol “Toots” Morris on her long running public access TV series, The Lobbie Lamento Show. ( Sorry this is not a link to that particular show, although I don’t doubt that it does air from time to time still CTN Ann Arbor

I have been friends with Manos now, on social media since learning the benefits of stalking local celebs and art peeps online.  Eventually you are going to meet and it’s easy enough to say “We’re Friends on Facebook”when asked how you know each other.  It also helps you get invited to great once in a life time events, like today’s performance and taping.

Lofty Bitch is a performance in three parts about women in the work place, climbing the corporate ladder.  Today Manos was having the performance video taped.  In a beautiful white box gallery in Hamtramck, MI.  9338 Campau, gets it’s name from it’s address, it’s a beautiful brilliantly modern and crispy clean space, in a neighborhood surrounded by vacant store fronts, pawn shops and fashion boutiques selling overly glitzed out church lady finery.

It would have been great to have a bigger audience and maybe a round table discussion after, but as a bonus there would be two performances instead of just the one.  For people who missed the first two acts.  The discussion is at the end of the month see the note at the end of this review? rant? blurb…

Act One:

Artist enters the space casually dressed with bucket in hand and promptly goes to work cleaning the rungs of the ladder in yellow gloves with a rag and cleanser.  The smell is familiar, ( even though I’m on of the privileged few who rarely does my own cleaning.  It’s that wonderful sent of ahhhh freshly cleaned house enjoy it as long as the smell waives through the house.  Actually one could get that same feeling simply by opening a bottle of cleanser who needs to actually.  The scene is immediately reminiscent of Mierle Laderman Ukeles‘ performance work in the early 1970’s Maintenance

Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintance

Where Ukeles’ work is never ending however I was shocked at how quickly Manos finished washing the ladder, in the end of the very short first part she was resorting to tossing a duster up to the highest rungs of the ladder, not really cleaning anything at all.  She’d have to do a much better job than that if she was going to get to get to the top.


Act Two:

Artist reenters space this time sporting a super tight pencil skirt and stiletto heels carrying two briefcases and a hand bag.  The audience watches as she attempts to climb the ladder and does a readjustment of her luggage and once again commences to climb this ladder that reaches from one side of the gallery to the other.  Part 2 reminds me of the early works of Kate Gilmore, I wonder if Gilmore knows of Manos’ work and visa versa. Where Gilmore’s work is highly emotional and is approached more from a childlike standpoint I feel there are many similarities. Although one of the other women in the audience a photography instructor at Marygrove College who knows Manos and her work says she has many pieces about navigating space and straining to accomplish physical tasks, that often brings awareness to this other audience member’s own issues with everyday functioning as a smaller woman.  Clearly not an issue for me….I don’t usually consider my height a privilege, but I imagine to some it would seem like one.

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Act Three:

Takes our Artist a little further, once again sporting a stylish work ensemble, this time a one piece wrap style dress Manos attempts to climb the ladder only this time she is pregnant.  I’m thinking she’s a good actress as she seems to really strain to climb.  I’m not sure that her prosthetic belly was one of those that really add the weight of child baring to the wearer or if it was just one of those store bellies you can strap on when buying maternity clothes  that gives you the appearance of being full term without the added discomfort.  My attention is focused on the slit of her skirt and how much of her legs I can see as she climbs higher.  Again Manos is wearing heels.  Okay sure there are dress codes at work, but I hope that sensible shoes are allowed.  Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows they are not going to be able to wear heels at least not so long into the pregnancy.  At 8 months pregnant are we still trying to look like the office hottie with our swollen ankles and feet that no longer fit our regular shoes?  Or are we trying to simply make it through to our due date as comfortably and as efficiently as possible.

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I suppose that the third part could have focused on any  number of female conditions but the postings at the front of the gallery from sources like the Economist do focus on women of child baring years and their statistics in the job market, fecundity is a safe bet.  But what about working while fat ( my particular favorite ), working while on your period, working while perimenopausal,  working while disabled,  working while aging.  I wonder too how an artist might depict working while black? Some of our limitations are easier to illustrate than others.

I really enjoyed the performance and the venue 9338 Campau , a wonderful contribution to a rather lack luster Women’s History Month here in the Detroit Area, something a little more thought provoking and professional than the annual, typically amateurish all women exhibition and college readings of the Vagina Monologues that seem to have been done to death over the past few years.

A final note on Saturday March 26th at 6pm there will be a gallery tour and discussion with Eli Gold and Melanie Manos.  Eli Gold being part of this performance series entitled lifework.’




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