"Peripheral Vision" Installation at Emory & Henry College
Artist Betty Branch Focuses on the Female Form
By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | July 27, 2010EMORY, VA — The main exhibit is in The 1912 Gallery at Emory & Henry College, while a site-specific installation made out of 30 bales of hay may be seen spiraling down a rolling hill beside the college library. A third venue will be added during an ARTalk in September when visitors will be invited to step outside to the college's duck pond to view a woman-totem of hemlock and to watch a video depicting Branch's "Ritual Fire" performance piece.
"Ritual Fire" began with "Mothers," an installation of nine burlap straw-filled forms hovering together and forming a cluster that loomed protectively over the viewer. When the forms began to decay, Branch set "Mothers" aflame on a barge in a quarry, inspired by the Hindu Sati tradition in which widows would immolate themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres.
Branch says, "All of these works find reference in matriarchal iconography — whether represented by figure, symbol or ritual of the feminine. From the beginning I have felt the difference between sculpture and installation/performance is not as great as one might imagine. The impetus is the same — it is the manifestation of idea into tangible form. The dance of creation can take place in the making of sculpture in the studio, on a hillside or in a quarry. For me, it is all sculpture, whether permanent or ephemeral. I see the world through the lens of sculptor."
Over a 30-year period, Branch has focused on the female form and has defined female rites of passage in both traditional and unorthodox media including bronze, stone, fiber, ceramic, terra cotta, earthenware, and straw in sizes hand-held to larger-than-life scale.
The mother of eight children and an internationally recognized artist, Branch says, "I quite consciously approach the portrayal of women as a purposeful contemporary statement. I am fascinated with the female form and its iconography; looking for the line or curve or some clue to its inherent universal quality. Imagery and history from ancient matriarchies (sculpture and artifact) — the feminine as mother, goddess, child, maiden, crone — all serve as inspiration and instruction as I reach into this archaic past to find talismans for the present, searching to find surrogates for today's rituals. My hope is to make some sense of the space and time in which I live and function as an artist and woman. It is the working process that grounds me in this contemporary culture, giving me the freedom to embrace the universal qualities of our ancient past and the faith to create in the present."
Branch has a studio in Roanoke, Va. Permanent outdoor installations of her sculpture may be seen in several downtown Roanoke locations, including the Taubman Museum of Art, the Roanoke Public Library, and outside the Museum of Transportation.
Seeking her own renaissance, Branch entered Hollins College in 1974, at the age of 40, to pursue art. Proficient in both painting and sculpture, Branch served as an apprentice in Philadelphia to acquire technical skills and embarked on periods of independent study to Greece, Italy, and The Bahamas to expand her knowledge of art history and art techniques. Notably, she was the only American exhibitor invited to the first Salon International de la Sculpture Contemporaine in Paris, 1990. "Through the Crow's Eye" at Hollins in 2009 was a retrospective of her work. That exhibition utilized all three spaces of the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum and included an outdoor sculpture component.
— A Brief History of Installation Art
Betty Branch works on a marble statue in Italy.
"Ritual Fire" is a performance piece by Betty Branch.
A previous installation by Branch, similar to one being installed at E&H College, features bales of hay spiraling down a rolling hill.