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Shattering Expectations: The Glasswork of Alex Trimm

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"Shatter" by Alex Trimm, 2014, installation of shattered tempered glass and monofilament; 5'6"H | Image courtesy of the artist.

At this year's senior show at Scripps College's Williamson Gallery in Claremont, young artists are making bold statements about race and gender politics. Dominique J. Smith's "Body Politics" photographs probe the relationship between African Americans -- and their bodies in particular-- and the U.S. economy, while Will Yandell's installation "Tricycle Gang" examines male power structures by positioning four faceless men beside tricycles, vehicles of much earlier bonding. But it is a ghostly dress made of shattered glass and hanging delicately from the ceiling, which most powerfully reflects the spirit of Ellen Browning Scripps, who founded Scripps with the hope of teaching women to think for themselves. By establishing this progressive liberal arts women's college, Scripps encouraged students to "think clearly and independently and to live confidently, courageously and hopefully." She wanted these young women to not just challenge but shatter stereotypes and expectations.

The installation "Shatter" was created by San Diego artist Alex Trimm as a statement about women and standards of beauty. Constructed from hundreds of segments of shattered tempered glass, the piece measures 5' 6" in height -- the perfect size for a supermodels, who typically stand at 6' tall. Visitors are invited to stand behind it and "try it on," but as is the case with Trimm herself and this writer, the bodice of the dress hangs at face height. "With this work," explains Trimm, "I wanted to challenge traditional standards of beauty and highlight the dangers of pursuing unattainable standards. Very few women are this height or look like fashion models, but many of us try to attain something impossible with our looks."

"Must Stay Young" by Alex Trimm, 2012, wax, syringe, clothes pegs, safety pins | Image courtesy of the artist
"Must Stay Young" by Alex Trimm, 2012, wax, syringe, clothes pegs, safety pins | Image courtesy of the artist

Trimm majored in studio art at Scripps, originally focusing on photography and spending the summer of 2013 studying the gender gap in contemporary photography, research that she is hoping to publish in the near future. Over the course of her degree, she became increasingly intrigued by the physicality of sculpture and so turned her attention to three-dimensional modeling. In a study she created for an assignment, Trimm began her sculptural exploration of attitudes towards female beauty and aging. She made a wax cast of her own face and pierced it with a syringe like those used in Botox treatments and attached clothes pegs to suggest loose aging skin being stretched taut across cheek bones. In this work, entitled "Must Stay Young," we can't help recalling Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray," although in this case, the wax portrait is not being allowed to age.

 

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The choice of glass for her more recent sculptural works including "Shatter" was in part an aesthetic one. Having studied and practiced photography for several years, Trimm has long been fascinated with the effects of light on objects and in capturing that light. When her car window was accidentally shattered one day, she discovered the beauty of shattered tempered glass as it reflects light in many directions at once. She kept the pieces in the hope of incorporating them into a sculptural work. In 2013, she used some in an installation called "Explosion," in which she arranged hundreds of suspended tempered glass fragments to appear as if a glass sphere had just exploded seconds before. "Just as a photograph captures a moment in time, I was experimenting with the freezing of glass in time, attempting to capture the sense of the moment of an explosion." In "Shatter," she builds tempered glass fragments into something that is "both recognizable but foreign." It's a dress but it has been abstracted into a sculpture that responds to movement and light. "People can part it with their hands, but the form will always close up again."

"Explosion" by Alex Trimm, 2013, installation made with shattered tempered glass and monofilament | Image courtesy of the artist

Detail of "Shatter" by Alex Trimm, 2014, installation of shattered tempered glass and monofilament;  5'6

Shattered glass is also a richly symbolic medium -- especially perhaps for women. Glass is "beautiful yet fragile," descriptive term often reserved for the female gender. As young girls, we learn the story of the lovely glass slipper that fits one woman's foot, and only she can marry the prince. As working women, there is also that glass ceiling that many of us bang our heads on when attempting to ascend professional ladders. Increasingly, we are encouraged to try and break through it. And then there's the symbolism of broken glass, which can evoke tragedy, misfortune or danger, as in the ancient motif of the broken mirror that forebodes years of bad luck.

"I used glass because it is beautiful, dangerous and alluring," says Trimm. "When you see broken glass you're tempted to touch it, even though you know you shouldn't." In this ethereal sculpture, each glass shard is a jagged but exquisite reminder of the perils of trying to construct one's own sense of beauty based on others' expectations and standards. By smashing glass and then rebuilding it into this delicate yet powerful work, Alex Trimm has set the bar high for her future work. But armed with talent, beauty and the blessing of the founder of her alma mater, this young artist seems capable breaking through any barriers that stand in her way to create work that challenges other women to do the same.

Alex Trimm with "Shatter" at the Scripps Williamson Gallery, 2014

Alex Trimm's work "Shatter" can be seen in the Annual Senior Show at Scripps College's Williamson Gallery through May 17, 2014. Some of her photography can be seen on flickr.

 

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