Melissa Zieziula Worthington’s ten collected photographs presented for her 2003 M. F. A. Thesis Exhibition @ Anderson Gallery are black & white collages rendered in aluminum and acrylic and finished with a process dubbed ‘Giclee transparency print,’ a kind of digital printing process.
Worthington’s central thesis in these works seems to be that women have an innate presence that somehow exists inherently within the natural world while man’s intervention tends to interrupt this ideal state. Worthington’s
subject is herself, in various nude poses. The content of her works convey a grasp for the far-reaching. She has big ideas and tackles no less a subject than ‘truth vs. Truth’ establishing a cosmology that borrows from
Catholic, Wiccan, and astrological symbols vs. man-made developments – the written word, architecture, cryptology, mathematics, and measurements. In all of these ten works, her nude form emphasizes the earthy female (meta)
themes that spring forth. Water, fire, birth, and growth are dominant. Meanwhile, she depicts male (micro) creations in an overlaid fashion, presenting them as somehow strange and unnecessary.
One of the most striking examples of Worthington’s idealization of the female is found in ‘Evolution,’ which depicts the artist in the womb itself, a womb also populated by simply drawn ‘Christian-symbol’ fish. She is subtly being penetrated by a single sperm as she swims. It has its head only partly lodged inside her. Meanwhile, more intricate renderings of
equations and DNA strands spiral over and around her. She is happy to accommodate the true male presence, the sperm, but she is literally overrun by the science. The complexity of the man-made scientific serves to obscure the raw power of the female human form. Man falls just short.
Worthington’s obvious penchant for symbol play comes full force in ‘Encryption,’ a twist on a very Catholic sensibility. Naked, she holds a chalice, while wearing a crucifix. Her bare form is unobstructed accept by a layer of some indistinct rubric, a code system of some sort, a man-made scribbling. Her lips are obviously painted with lipstick. The link is
subtle – lipstick, a kind of sexual code – the mere act of hiding the lips reveals the true intention of using them. Females have codes of their own, but they are far more effective. It is lost to the man, who is too busy hiding his own true intentions behind the science of cryptography. And so it goes…
It is clear from these ten works that Worthington uses prevalent symbols of our recent era to effectively regress the post-modern dialectic, boiling the discussion down to ‘He vs. She’ with the She being the true ‘Truth’. The symbols themselves serve their purpose in context, but she merrily discards them from work to work, assimilating whatever will prove her point without much regard for the traditions she borrows from. The use of her own nude form is a strong indication that she does means for the conversation to be a personal one. Women viewers can feel empowered by her boldness. Because of her obvious personal revelation and investment into her work, she is obviously inviting male and female alike to buy into her claims. However, all of us already tend to believe in this separation of male vs. female
because we have all been oppressed by it. We know it well. She is serving more to amplify it so that we can happily rebel.
The rebellion is no more spelled out than in ‘Consumption,’ her boldest statement. In this piece, she stares directly at the camera, her hair down. She is seated, her feet tight against her body. She reveals nothing of herself, but she is clearly nude. She holds an Apple outstretched, which is rendered glowing, with little helpful arrows superimposed pointing towards it. She is saying – ‘look here at the apple – not me.’ The assumed male observer must be instructed to see the real substance of the piece – the famous Apple of Temptation. Liberated Women are already in on the joke and
can take the piece as camp mockery. It’s as if her sexuality is there in her hand, in a true symbolic form, while her naked body itself is a ruse, merely part of nature itself. Her black & white, austere nudity makes a joke of the full-color, ‘come-hither’ spreads of the likes of Playboy, Penthouse, etc. The man’s mere gaze is not what’s wanted – is the message –
but the actualy shared consumption that comes with True Union. It’s a Truth all True women already know, Worthington seems to convey. It is a revelation of the True nature of Humankind – for both Woman and Man.
Worthington’s website, sadly, is no longer online, but a subset of this collection can still be found, as of this writing, at http://academic.shu.edu/libraries/gallery/gender-exhibits.htm#Worthington.