HOPE GINSBURG
Hope Ginsburg’s artwork takes numerous forms. She worked with a beekeeper learning how to make honey; she auditioned to be a saleswoman on the QVC television network; she has made handmade felt mittens; she works in a design firm; and, recently, she produced small novelty items, such as temporary tattoos. As disparate as this list might appear, issues of performance crop up consistently in Ginsburg’s oeuvre. She is always a primary actor/figure in her work, which itself is an ongoing exploration of the porous boundary between art and life.

The Bearded Lady project began in 1998 when Ginsburg, professing a lifelong love of bees, found a mentor in beekeeper Francis Bowen. As Bowen’s apprentice, Ginsburg assisted him at lectures, at state fairs, and in the garden. As trust and friendship grew between them, Ginsburg began to inquire about the phenomenon of bee beards–an old American picnic or state fair trick in which a swarm of bees forms a beard on a performer’s chin. The bees will swarm to protect the queen of their hive, and once attached to the cage, they form a protective phalanx or “beard.” Ginsburg worked with Bowen and apiarist Jim Gray on developing the proper antibodies for bee stings (which requires being stung repeatedly over time) so that she could perform the Bearded Lady trick.

Recorded on video, and subsequently rendered into a lovely faux-Victorian label for her own brand of honey (“Bearded Lady”), Ginsburg’s “performance” culminated in a successful bee beard. The work is ongoing: Ginsburg still produces Bearded Lady honey, which can be purchased directly from the artist or in gift shops in institutions where the artist exhibits her work.

Bearded Lady can be understood within the tradition of task-based performance inasmuch as the artist is led by her own desires and interests to create a task for herself, which she subsequently completes. Historically, artists interested in task-based performances treated their artistic process as vastly more interesting and important than the final product or result. Ginsburg does, however, produce a product, one readily bought and sold on the market, and one that is a usable commodity: honey. Traditionally, Process art was conceived of as a way to undermine the capitalist demand for art to be a profitable product. In the Bearded Lady project, Ginsburg tackles this demand from a different angle. Given that so much task-based work and Process art of the 1960s was subsequently commodified through the production of relics and documentation, Ginsburg’s production of a commodity acts as a sort of “first strike.” Here the artist offers up a handmade commodity, one meant to be ingested by the viewer, as a kind of homeopathic remedy for the inevitable commodity status of art.

In her exploration of the performative quality of art and the slippage between the spaces of art and everyday life, Ginsburg is currently at work producing small novelties of the sort found in Cracker Jack boxes. Entitled The Novelty Project (2002–2003), the first works are temporary tattoos designed to be purchased at a nominal cost and worn by the viewer. The Little Black Moustache is a pencil-thin vaudevillesque moustache tattoo. Clearly a play on Coco Chanel’s enduring gift to women’s fashion, this moustache functions as a playful reconfiguration of face and gender. When it is worn, the viewer/wearer is thrown into a space of heightened self-awareness, open to innumerable questions from friends, family, and mere passersby. The Little Black Moustache is accompanied by the Rosy Red Cheek tattoos, bright red circles in the vein of Raggedy Ann. Ginsburg advises, “They’re for flirty days, when the elegance of the Little Black Moustache is too severe.”[1]

[1] Hope Ginsburg, correspondence with the author, Summer 2002.