“People say my father’s a very unusual person,” Holly Greenberg muses. “He doesn’t have preconceptions about how somebody should behave. There were no gender-assigned tasks in my family: we had to go out and help my father put leaves and twigs in the mulcher or lay insulation in the attic.”
So while Greenberg’s mother thought her three daughters would just be in the way in the kitchen, her father put them to work, teaching them “male” things.
Greenberg’s oldest sister received an electric power drill for her 18th birthday. “That’s what she wanted,” Greenberg recalls. “She needed it for, I don’t know, building something.” Greenberg was nine at the time and thought little of it. But the gift became a running joke, and eventually she realized that “there were these rules–like girls learned girly things.”
Now Greenberg makes prints of objects silhouetted against a wood-grain background with the titles silkscreened below. Manly shows a woman’s purse; Virile a sewing machine; Skirt a jackhammer. “I’m trying to show people a new way of looking at these objects. . . . You don’t look at the barbecue and think, “That’s some man’s barbecue,’ and yet when you see a silhouette of a barbecue, that is a masculine item. I went to the picture files in the library; in every ad for a barbecue there’s a man. So I’m sort of reminding people that we have put these genderings on objects.”
Greenberg’s prints are collagraphic, which means she uses a cardboard rather than metal plate. She finds “something very powerful about the silhouette. It’s almost like a road sign,” she says, “like a universal symbol.” A purse becomes “less specific: if it were a patterned purse it would be somebody’s purse and I’m not talking about what brand blender or what brand lawn mower it is. I’m talking about the icon. People laugh when they see my prints, but what we’re really laughing at is ourselves–how we have gendered objects.”
Greenberg, who teaches collagraphic printmaking at the Evanston Art Center, has prints on view Tuesday through Saturday at Lyons-Wier + Ginsberg, 300 W. Superior, through August 19. Call 654-0600 for more.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mark PoKemper.