Vanessa Kamp has hidden her cats. They are the last thing she wants to discuss. But they constitute the first line of inquiry of anyone who has seen 100% Pure Pussy (1) and 100% Pure Pussy (2), two of the three sculptures she has on display at “New Talent IV,” the juried group show running through Aug. 24 at D.C.’s Signal 66 gallery. Each piece is a small mound, about the size of a cupped hand, covered in hand-woven cat hair, which Kamp has twisted into thread on her antique spinning wheel. She intends to extend the series but confesses that her two pet felines don’t produce enough hair to meet her requirements. And she refuses to say how she came by the variegated blobs of fur that fill a large plastic bag she keeps on a shelf.
I make a mental note to check nearby telephone poles for missing-pet fliers on my way out.
The artist steers the conversation toward the symbolic
relation between cat and woman: cattiness, catfight, the word “pussy” itself. Noting that the mound shape refers ambiguously to both mons and breast and that her practice follows in the feminist tradition of fine-art-making indebted to so-called women’s work, Kamp observes, “All of those ingredients really, in a heavy way, have ‘woman’ in there, but when you put it all together and you look at this, is this ‘pussy’ or not? I think part of the intention is to question how we compose our notion of sex—or symbols of sex.” Naturally, the subject has cross-gender appeal. “When a lot of guys read the title…,” she says, “they think, Wow, pussy—I’m into this.”
A 1992 graduate of Bennington College in Vermont, the Silver Spring native received her MFA last year from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, outside Detroit. In the interim, she bounced around several cities on the West Coast; in San Francisco, she worked as a pattern-maker for Bellwether, a manufacturer of cyclists’ clothing. In fact, Kamp’s third piece at Signal 66—consisting of three collapsed, elasticized forms that appear to have fallen off a hook on the wall—draws specifically on her former employment in the athletic-apparel industry.
In the fall, Kamp will be leading classes in both the fashion and fine-art programs at Marymount University in Arlington, in addition to teaching first-year students at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. It all falls under the rubric of the adjunct professorship—full-time work for part-time pay, sans benefits. “I’ve gone through the whole system, and I have huge issues with it,” Kamp says, lamenting the high cost of art school, which has left her in debt, and the scant possibility of making any serious money from sales. One could gather that unless she weaves some new upholstery herself, her pets’ own handiwork, involving deeply distressed fabrics and the living-room couch, will continue to offer evidence of a
different brand of pussy power. —Glenn Dixon