Zeroing In On Adolescent Girlhood, Petra Collins Shoots From the Hip
Photo by Maro Hagopian Petra Collins
Petra Collins is a wreck. She's calling from upstate New York, and the first thing she says is that she's had a sinus infection for weeks and the previous day dislocated her knee. "I was doing this shoot and dancing, and it just popped out," she tells the Voice. "But I guess it happened at a good time." A few days before, Collins opened her first solo exhibition — on view at Capricious 88 — and though the event is behind her, she's curating a group show the following weekend, just signed a book deal, is planning a move to NYC, and shows no signs of slowing down. For the present moment, however, she's on pause, fielding texts from friends while she prepares for her next step. Her enthusiasm is enough to make a jaded arts writer feel old, and some of her works are bound to make a gallery-goer older than 30 feel dated. Collins's exhibition features neon text works, two of which include the abbreviation "rn." What does that mean? "Right now!" she says, laughing. "It's something that's so of our generation that we just get it."
Photo by Petra Collins
Though aspects of Collins's work feel youth-specific, there is much that is lucid across age groups. The Toronto-born artist addresses the insecurities and angst of the female teenage experience through her artworks, which range from photographs of her sister and friends to the aforementioned neon and some provocative, gender-related sculpture.
The photographs depict young women in various intimate scenes — talking with friends, experiencing moments of loneliness and melancholy, and in one case masturbating. Their discomfort in their own skin is both palpable and instantly relatable; the grainy quality of the image, borne of Collins's exclusive use of 35mm film, adds a timeless effect accentuated by the new-again high-waisted bottoms worn by the young women.
Though the photographs are lushly lighted and somewhat sentimental, many of the works deal aggressively with the physical changes of female adolescence. The sculptures comprise panties stained with various discharge, stiffened in crumpled yet erect shapes. The dirty underwear, which might otherwise be considered shameful, is prominently on display. The sum of these works is a forthright statement of puberty that, rather than being blithely boastful or hiding its traumas, proclaims its realities. In this way, Collins's work confronts the physical and emotional experience of "womanhood" with a keen insight that is perhaps unsurprising given that the artist herself is only 21.