When people first meet artist Megan Conley, they have few clues about the story under her skin. In her new solo exhibit “Assemblage,” opening Friday in Buffalo Arts Studio, she explores the topography, pressure, imperfections, nips and tucks of female beauty. Fueled by her experience with dental and facial reconstruction endured for more than a decade beginning when she was 8, Conley has been exploring the construction and reconstruction of identity through video, photography and performance art.
“Assemblage” consists of photographs, layer sculptures and 3-D printed objects, which were created over the last two years while she was pursuing her MFA in the University at Buffalo’s Visual Studies program. Searching for a way to combine the techniques in her mixed media portraits and her layer sculptures, Conley recently began experimenting with 3-D printing, which has added a new dimension to her work.
What Conley does with 3-D printing is interesting, said Shirley Verrico, curator for Buffalo Arts Studio, because it works in layers, giving objects a topographical quality, which is a recurring theme in the show.
“Its almost as if one is looking at a sort of mapping or cartography and the linear quality of that is part of what makes her art interesting to look at,” Verrico said.
Born and raised in Calgary, Conley was working primarily in photography when she started the program and began investigating sculpture by breaking her photographs into layers that captured and exposed the metal pins and plates inside her face, behind the skin.
“I did a lot of layering within those works, I would try to distort myself,” Conley said. “And now with this body of work I feel that I’m revealing those layers and how I make them, and it is quite raw in comparison to what I was doing before.”
Despite the distortion, layering and reprocessing, Verrico suggests that Conley’s work is accessible because it is rooted in portraiture, and we see faces in the mirror, in advertisements and on television and phone screens all the time. For Conley, that is part of the problem. Her work picks apart the notions of beauty, and the unrealistic standard that women have had imposed upon them.
“Perfect symmetrical faces, the perfect body, body dysmorphia, that’s a huge thing I’m interested in as well. I think accepting who we are is a lot harder than people think is possible, especially the way we live in this day and age. It’s hard for women to accept flaws,” she said.
That process of acceptance, one that she acutely dealt with throughout her youth, provides her a particular sense of time in the face of physical repair as it approaches what is considered desirable or acceptable by society. Her work includes multiple versions of similar printed, but still distorted faces, illuminated shadows cast through acetate prints, and the same outlined face over and over again, all in an attempt to represent pieces of time.
The exhibit includes a number of 3-D distorted faces, which speak to the way Conley looked before the surgery, as well as the imperfections women are pressured to hide.
“There’s a time and a place to stop and accept who we are, which I’ve also struggled with in my work and that has a lot to do with why I do the same outline of a face over and over again. The repetition is really important,” Conley said. “Accepting who we are is a hard thing to do, with this pressure to look a certain way.”
What: “Assemblage” by Megan Conley
When: Opening reception 5 p.m. Friday; exhibit through May 2
Where: Buffalo Arts Studio, 2495 Main St., Suite 500
Info: 883-4450 or buffaloartsstudio.org