June 14 - July 26, 2024

Suffering Machines by Jessica Campbell

Jessica Campbell

Part of Artist-in-Residence

Suffering Machines by Jessica Campbell
Suffering Machines by Jessica Campbell
Suffering Machines by Jessica Campbell
Suffering Machines by Jessica Campbell

Suffering Machines, as Picasso once referred to women, is an exhibition by Jessica Campbell that features a series of portraits of women from history, some drawn and some woven. Weaving, a labour-intensive and ancient tradition that historically has been largely practiced by women, is a new technique for Campbell learned during her residency at SPACES. Each work in this is framed by a set of curtains, referencing both the domestic spaces for which these curtains were produced, but also the history of curtains in visual art. From the ancient Greek myth of Parrhasius’ verisimilitude to contemporary artist David Hammons’ shrouded works, curtains have been employed as framing devices and tools of obfuscation as long as textiles and images have coexisted.

"Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the Picasso quote, “Women are suffering machines,” which he made in reference to the artist Dora Maar, his one-time lover and muse, whom he observed was always weeping in his presence.

The quote makes me livid. The term is an invocation of nature that inherently absolves those who created the conditions of suffering of their responsibility. Women suffer because they suffer—it is their essence. They are machines built for it.

But who cares what Picasso thought about women? Frankly, I don’t care too much. He’s dead; I’m alive. Yet, his words ricochet around my mind.

Throughout the day, I find myself unexpectedly awash in waves of suffering, completely out of my control. I think of my mother’s misery; I think of my friend and former partner, Lee’s, death; I think of abuse; I think of my recent divorce.

While this is due to some of the traumas that I’ve experienced in recent years, I think a lot of it is also a mindset inherited from growing up in the Evangelical church, where women are required to submit to the will and whims of men. It is an environment of profound disenfranchisement, and being raised in these conditions gave me a palpable sense of impotence that has carried over into the rest of my life, despite not being in the church any longer.

I absolutely hate that Picasso characterized women as suffering machines. I also often feel like one.

Suffering Machines features a series of portraits of women from history, some drawn and some woven. Weaving is a technique new to my practice and exhibited here for the first time. It is a labor-intensive and ancient tradition that historically has been largely practiced by women, a tradition I am honored to participate in. Each portrait in this exhibition is framed by a set of curtains, referencing both the domestic spaces for which these curtains were produced and the history of curtains in visual art. From the ancient Greek myth of Parrhasius’ verisimilitude to contemporary artist David Hammons’ shrouded works, curtains have been employed as framing devices and tools of obfuscation as long as textiles and images have coexisted.

When I think about these historical women, I am often struck by a sense of struggle and injustice—of suffering. Yet, as with my friends and family to whom I relate through shared adversity, this creates a kinship. We are bound together by suffering, and through these bonds, I find liberation." -Jessica Campbell.

About the Artist

Jessica Campbell

Jessica Campbell (b. 1985, Nanaimo, Canada) is an interdisciplinary artist who works predominantly in textiles, drawing and comics. Drawing on a wide range of influences, including science fiction, art world politics, and her evangelical upbringing, Campbell explores ways to reflect heterogeneity through a combination of disparate media, subjects, and tone. Whether... go to artist page

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