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In one room, Ami Martin Wilber is teaching “Sahara Dance,” leading a small group of women in a torso-undulating exercise. In the next, Wilber’s essence is distilled into 100 cold and unmoving laboratory flasks filled with yellow rubber and human hair.
Both are in the Gallery at Flashpoint downtown, where Wilber teaches dance on Saturdays, and where her installation, Contained Existence, is on display through Aug. 14. Belly-dancing and beakers may not seem to have much in common, but to Wilber, both encompass aspects of humanity.
The artist, who’s been showing her work locally for the past six years, studied ballet as a child. “I hated the restrictions on size and all that,” says Wilber, who is shorter than the average prima ballerina. Belly-dancing is “just a celebration of all women, all sizes.”
As for the installation—mounted in a horizontal line across four of the gallery’s walls—Wilber writes in her artist’s statement that it warns of the “danger of losing perspective and sensitivity to that which is human.” The images now available via television and the Internet inure people to violence, she suggests, citing Web surfers who download videos of decapitations in Iraq.
This is not the first time the 31-year-old Adams Morgan resident has worked with scientific glassware, rubber, and human hair. (She’s even used her own.) A 2002 show at the District of Columbia Arts Center combined long, horse-tail-like locks with milk-colored rubber, and an exhibition last year at the PASS Gallery used rubber to examine the landscape of human skin.
Working with rubber, she says, “was something that I just taught myself. It was inspired by seeing a big pink Louise Bourgeois rubber piece at the Hirshhorn.” She imagines that the material is “like what dead flesh would feel like. It’s tactile, even though the viewer doesn’t get a sense of that.” Wilber is working on a new piece whose rubber forms would adhere directly to the wall and thus be touchable.
The hair, she notes, “is a reference to self”—even though this time she didn’t grow her own. “There’s a beauty-supply shop in Adams Morgan with a whole wall of hair you can buy,” she says. “It really went with the theme of dehumanization,” she adds. “The color of the hair is almost the exact shade as mine, so it must have been some Asian person who grew it.”
Contained Existence also alludes to the tension between mass production and individuality. One hundred almost-identical bottles are better than one, the artist explains, because “it reinforces the image….I was trying to make it a numbing effect. [T]here are so many that it’s a little overwhelming. And some people are disgusted by the hair.”
The pieces have subtle differences, too. “Some don’t have as much hair in them,” Wilber notes. “Some are a slightly lighter shade of rubber. I wanted it have that feeling—that these are clones of each other, and yet each is individual.”
In fact, the flasks are for sale separately, though Wilber thinks that breaking up the set would change the dynamic.
“I personally like to see all of them,” she says. “I hope they’ll find a nice home where they can all be together.”
“Contained Existence” is on view through Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Gallery at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW. For more information call (202) 315-1310.