Jessica Plattner’s Maternal Instincts

Alexis Salas, Exhibition Essay, “Instintos Maternales/Maternal Instincts,” 

Galería Jesús Gallardo, Universidad de Guanajuato, México

June 2008

Maternal instincts are popularly assumed to be a prerequisite of womanhood, an indisputable female truth. Jessica Plattner’s work questions such oft-unexamined predominant conceptions of the female. In a world seemingly sitting on a different axis, a dense domain populated by pattern and hue; contemplative sitters look upon parallel truths, confront alternate realities, and meet simultaneous experientialities. Explorations not of the fragmentation, but rather, the multiplicity, of the being, Plattner’s work exists in a realm in which perspective, solid matter, and even light, break apart.  

In The Guardian, one beam of yellow light diagonally pierces the blue sky of the canvas. In the lower half of the painting, a young single mother’s hands fidget upon a yellow and green table as she quizzically gazes out of the frame. Other young women converse on the right, engaging with one another without their glances meeting. Seemingly in conversation with themselves, they sustain a dialogue amongst, perhaps, the different persons in one being. Above this hangs an upside-down angel, Archangel Michael. Brandishing a sword, this patron saint of the soldier is the young mother’s visual adversary, a provocateur challenging her to be a warrior who both coexists with these many persons but who can also galvanize their diverse forces into a diligent, directed agent when needed. 

The union and separation of pieces, parts, and wholes; these are the protagonists of The Hungry Ghost. Rich mini-narratives of indulgence and restriction unfold at the climax of an epic tale: a woman, seated at the back left of the canvas, sees her desires as well as her expectations of herself in pieces scattered on the table. Through polished brushwork, her yearnings become all the more fantastical. Through the use of scale, pleasures become larger-than-life: food becomes so decadent that the icing drips off of the cake, a tongue bursts from the pig’s mouth in gluttony, and even spaghetti grows so wanton that it splays upon the table; dwarfing diet pills, makeup, babies, and several miniature versions of the woman herself. For as much as The Hungry Ghost is a Bruegelian feast, it is also a Boschonian tale of moral consequence:this seated woman must make a decision, perhaps daily, about whom she chooses to be.

In The Photographer, a woman atop a vibrant carpet reminiscent of the walls of Matisse’s Harmonie Rouge is set against the fiercely turquoise layer of upper-atmospheric sky.  This piece juxtaposes two spheres:  one filled with vulnerability and intimacy as the photographer cradles a small dog in a near baptismal pose, and the other marked by chaos as the clamoring books, cameras, photographs and animals compete for the photographer’s attention. The instance depicted is like that of an epiphany: shards of color and pattern simply burst spontaneously from the floor, propelled, perhaps, by the union of disparate ambits. In The Photographer, as is characteristic of Plattner’s work, light and clouds are paired with weight and substance and the jewel-like quality of turquoise and red dominates the canvas. 

Yet, while her paintings may invoke medieval triptychs, Plattner’s work is not the story of maternity in which Madonna and child gaze at each other in eternal rapture. Plattner’s paintings embody the complexity of lived, rather than culturally defined, maternal instinct: conflicted emotions, difficult decisions, and momentous change. Through her internal landscapes, Jessica Plattner’s work functions as a study of extensions: the being as through, the being as within, others; recognizing that maternal instincts are not about mothers and children, nor even parents and children, but rather about powerful questions of feminism, the self, success, the family, love, and the future.  

--Alexis Salas, Mexico City, 29 May 2008.