By embodying forms in the likeness of whales, bison and elephants (animals that we keep our distance from because of their physical power and intimidating size) Melanie Cooper Pennington’s large-scale sculptures immediately trigger curiosity and wariness. Her ‘Beasts’ are soft and touchable, placed in precarious positions or engaged in a struggle with an opposing force, probing the viewer’s capacity for empathy. The scale of the work serves two purposes, first it emphasizes the the feeling of powerlessness that can be overwhelming when confronted with conflicts of all types, but second, it is to remind the viewer of their giant beast-like strength with which there is power to overcome any obstacle. It is by entering into the wound that healing, resurgence and vitality can occur.
The visceral materials by which Cooper Pennington constructs her work range from ceramic and steel to fur and wood. She uses her knowledge of human anatomy to anthropomorphize the beast- incorporating human signifiers that make the imagined creatures feel knowable. She is interested in the historic use of fetish objects, especially in relation to religious practices. Her choices of material further flesh out ideas revolving around the corporeal (animal and human), sex (relationship with the other) and the divine (religious structures and spiritual experience) - in a word, fetish. She uses fetish in an effort to dismantle its power and confronts ideas of what is considered questionable, untouchable, or sacred.
Currently Melanie is a Lecturer of Sculpture at Indiana University, Bloomington IN.