A vase-like spiral of fleshy fingers grips the word “Flower” rendered in hot pink clay. This playful, cartoon-like sculpture is representative of Marianna Peragallo’s semi-surreal style, whose work is now on display at the Wassaic Project, part of the group show “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now,” curated by Eve Biddle, Bowie Zunino, Jeff Barnett-Winsby, and Will Hutnick.
Peragallo first exhibited at the Wassaic Project as an artist-in-residence in October 2019. Last summer, she also contributed to their online education workshops. “I can’t say enough kind things about the folks at the Wassaic Project,” Peragallo says. “I have developed a wonderful relationship with them, and they have been so supportive of my work.”
Most of Peragallo’s sculptures have bodily extremities that propel people forward and evoke themes of giving and receiving. About Flower, she says, “My anthropomorphic sculptures are self-portraits that have mutated into body-text-object hybrids. Flower is both a noun and a verb. Here, the word is being held as an offering. It can be thought of as a request, like, ‘go ahead, flower, bloom, grow.’ My sculptures have mutated beyond the possibilities of the human body to hold a gesture.”
Love is a driving force behind much of Peragallo’s work. She started thinking about it in reaction to abuse of power and systemic oppression, realizing that love gets misinterpreted as passive neutrality or worse, self-centered manipulation. As a result, Peragallo believes love often gets sidelined as sentimental, but she believes it’s a radical act rooted in strength and mutual support. “I hope to communicate the labor and action required in love in a way that is disarming and humorous,” she says.
Working in multimedia gives Peragallo the freedom and flexibility to explore new ways to create. For smaller sculptures, she works with polymer clay. Larger sculptures can involve foam, epoxy, and resin. Sometimes she works digitally on stop-motion animation. “All of these methods feed each other, push the work in different ways, and pose unique challenges that allow me to think differently,” she says.
Born in Brazil, Peragallo immigrated to the US when she was a child and has moved many times since. “The constant push and pull between cultures lends itself to thinking about possibilities, like creating a new body or new being that isn’t specific to any one place,” she says.
Peragallo keeps an eye open for the beauty in the mundane. “Recently, I have been reimagining common household objects such as a broom and dustpan, light fixture, mirror, or staircase,” she says. “These objects have important jobs in our spaces that can be taken for granted despite being essential.”
She’s influenced by artists old and new and takes great inspiration from children’s books, which inform how her sculptures look. “But I try not to prescribe a style, I just try to be as authentic in my work as possible—"mistakes, imperfections, and all.”
“If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now” is on exhibit at the Wassaic Project through September 18, the centerpiece of the art space’s robust summer programming at its home in the town of Amenia.