Shanna Waddell “Preface: she is s/heness society”

Jack Barrett

poster for Shanna Waddell “Preface: she is s/heness society”

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Jack Barrett presents Preface: she is s/heness society, an exhibition of new works by Shanna Waddell and the artist’s first solo show with the gallery.

Preface: she is s/heness society continues Shanna Wadell’s project in world-building. Unfolding in real-time, Waddell’s practice functions as ongoing chapters of an encompassing life endeavor. Harnessing the act of painting, Waddell materializes in a gradual, narrative build-up, the possibility of an alternate societal schema. Her prior solo show, An Introduction to s/heness society allowed viewers a glimpse into the realm of s/henss society. As Waddell continues her practice, so in tandem grows the world, a narrative arc that with each exhibition, widens the viewfinder into the envisioned artist community.

In this chapter, Waddell invites us into the daily activities of members in s/heness society, a commune centered around an artist-agrarian ethos. Inhabiting a technicolor pastoral landscape, Waddell’s figures exist and work collectively, gathering supplies, sowing the fields, and plein-air painting. In s/heness sows seeds in early spring, we see figures in the foreground dispersing seeds into the soil, advancing towards a psychedelic sun that overwhelms the canvas with its acidic greens, pinks, and yellows.

The work evokes the landscapes and studies of Vuillard, Bonnard, and Munch. Waddell cites the freedom of being able to paint without reservation and incorporates elements from each, resulting in a composited phantasmagoria that feels untethered from any specific stylistic consideration. In s/heness paints at the sea cliffs, women gather on a verdant green shore, engaging in an evening plein air painting session. Land and sea have almost no demarcation, nodding to the post-impressionistic manner Waddell often employs. The work’s compositional flatness and saturated palette add to an otherworldly atmosphere, evoking a sense of unreality. Here, the landscape exists outside of any specific time or space, inviting the viewer to effortlessly immerse themselves within its bounds.

The artist has long been fascinated with culture’s fixation with and yearning for a better, or at least, alternative model to present society. This manifested in her early work, which delved into the cautionary tales of cult experiments, such as Heaven’s Gate, and Jonestown, the Icarian trajectories of pop-cultural figures such as Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix, and the more biblical archetype of Satan. In s/heness society, these figures and movements are referred to as the “guides,” and exemplify a warning to s/heness of the pitfalls of a hierarchical social structure. This impulse against hierarchy is reflected in the artistic output of the society. Members forgo individual authorship, creating all artworks collectively in service to beauty itself. This collectivity is the backbone of what Waddell envisions for us; a world in which we contribute our manifold respective strengths for the betterment of the whole.

In this spirit, the artist poses the question: What if utopia is an ongoing practice and not a place? Instead of anticipating utopia as a destination, Waddell asks us to harness our brave imaginings in our day to day and continue to ask “what if?”



from April 28, 2023 to June 10, 2023


Shanna Waddell

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