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The Hundred Headless Woman

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The Hundred Headless Women was born from an earlier work by Joseph, The Torture Museum , part of the Sideshow of the Absurd , a multimedia installation emulating a circus, that traveled to museums around the United States in Joseph is no stranger to the circus—her grandparents rented their farmland to visiting circuses throughout her childhood—and the experience had an indelible effect on her art. Clowns, like many artists, stand apart and comment on society; they are both tragic and comedic. Pussy, with her round cartoonish head over a woman's body in a leopard skin suit is placed in a series of perilous situations.

In Catch of the day p95 , her legs and feet are bound and her arms tied behind her. In another Back seat driver , she is tied to a chair of nails p , while a third One piece body trimmer has her bound in a full body cage p Rather than succumbing to the role of victim, however, Pussy confronts her audience with a pleasant but defiant smile.

What can the viewer read into this? The artist herself has commented how the sideshow was a pretext for exploring women, power and sexuality, specifically the "vulnerability of women, how they dare and how they survive. It is telling that in answering the Proust Questionnaire for this essay, Joseph revealed that her heroines are Mother Teresa; her grandmother Teresa Nonny ; oppressed women in countries around the world who can't guide their own lives; and Mary Wollstonecraft mother of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley , who in published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

With a few exceptions, Joseph's work has always been about women.

The Hundred Headless Woman

She was classically trained and the hours spent drawing from the nude engendered a fascination with the human body. As Joseph notes, "the spectacle of woman, for better or for worse, was my own experience and was what I was and still am compelled to express. As she observed, "I like the weird stuff, sexual things, black humor, magic, illusion and reality, games, the fantastic.

Life holds for me a sense of absurdity, and maybe mystery. The first headless woman drawing appeared on the entry wall at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art where Joseph's Sideshow of the Absurd premiered in It depicted a woman sitting calmly in a chair, her head replaced by a cylinder out of which tubes flowed into jars and some sort of electric meter.

The Hundred Headless Women , the wall installation of wood-burned kitchen cutting boards, appeared in its first incarnation in , though Joseph has continued to add to it over the past five years. Presented on a wall as a single piece, the installation resembles an amorphous minimalist grid.

The Hundred Headless Woman

These eighty-one cutting boards wood-burned with sexually charged images are in many ways a culmination of interests, styles and techniques Joseph has been exploring since her days as an art student, infused with life's experiences dating from her childhood. The initial inspiration for the headless women series began in when Joseph read an essay in The New York Times entitled "From Science Fiction to Science: The Whole Body Transplant," about a severed monkey's head which had been attached by sutures and tubes to another monkey's body and was showing signs of life.

White, M. White believed contained the mind and soul—has fascinated artists, scientists and writers for centuries, just as the bizarre idea of the "full body transplant" captivated Joseph's imagination.


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Also during this time, Joseph discovered The Headless Woman magic trick in a book on the history of magic and again was intrigued by the disconnect of a smiling woman not only separated from her body but seemingly alert and cheerful. This led her to explore other, related images and subjects. In Catholic schoolgirl confessions p21 , a young girl kneels before a miniature guillotine while a disembodied arm presumably male controls the handle; in Feel good fabrics p37 , a headless woman levitates, four large tubes descending into buckets; Outside the box p shows a woman with her head on a coil like a jack-in-the-box; Fountain of youth p is similar to the original headless woman drawing but here the coils flow from the neck like a waterfall.