Ellsworth says her interest in and research of group dancing was born at Cash Inn Country, a lesbian cowboy bar on McDowell Road and 20th Street, where she learned to line dance on Thursday nights.

Though she's been variously described as a life-size Kewpie doll and a delicate, porcelain-skinned lady who looks as though she would blush at the sound of a dirty word, Angela Ellsworth is no shrinking violet. And she's definitely never shied away from sticky personal and social issues in her work. A high-profile part of the Valley art scene for more than a decade, Ellsworth is mostly known for her groundbreaking performances, which tromp fearlessly through thorny psychological terrain, even though she was trained as a painter.

After earning a B.A. in fine arts from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and an M.F.A. in painting and performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Jersey, in the early 1990s, the artist was creating large, thickly painted canvases revolving around the idea of the female body — more specifically her own, with attendant personal issues of self-worth, weight, eating, skewed self-image, and stereotypes of beauty pushed in contemporary American culture. Thereafter followed Misfit Attire, a performance piece in a burned-out building in New Jersey, during which Ellsworth sucked out the cream filling from some 100 pink Hostess Snowballs, which she was forbidden to eat as a child, stuffing the cake parts into one of the legs of black fishnet stockings she was wearing. While doing that, her performance partner, Tina Takemoto, was sharpening chopsticks with an electric pencil sharpener strategically placed in her hair, which she then stabbed into her dress to create a porcupine effect.

Ellsworth among her seer bonnets at Sydney Biennale installation.
Paul Green
Ellsworth among her seer bonnets at Sydney Biennale installation.
A finished seer bonnet
Kathleen Vanesian
A finished seer bonnet

In 1993, Ellsworth was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer originating in the body's white blood cells. After her diagnosis and during her cancer treatment, the thrust of her work, in partnership with her close friend Takemoto, was aimed at dealing with her psychologically devastating battle with cancer, chemotherapy, insurance coverage, and alternative medical therapies. Thus was born Caffeine and Carotene.

In an unforgettable appearance at downtown Phoenix's Icehouse in 1997, Ellsworth and Takemoto took over the Cathedral Room, constructing a scaffold contraption several stories high that featured a juicer attached to an exercise bicycle, yards of medical tubing, and coffee. For four hours a day over a three-day period, the duo engaged in a Kafka-esque ritual of juicing 900 pounds of carrots via furious bicycle pedaling, after which they bagged and labeled IV bags filled with the resultant combo of juice and coffee, then stuffed carrot remains in bags stamped "pre-existing condition."

That same year, for the opening of ASU Art Museum's "Art on the Edge of Fashion," Ellsworth ensconced herself in one of the stalls of the museum's downstairs ladies restroom. Sitting on a toilet, she ate powdered donuts and whispered stories about body size and mass, which murmurings were piped into the men's restroom, as museum-goers in the women's room peeped through the cracks of her stall or peered into periscopes focused on her. For ASUAM's 1997 "Token City," a multi-media exhibition creating a virtual subway experience, Ellsworth unabashedly re-created the distinctive smell of a big city subway by soaking a cocktail dress in her own urine for a full week, drying it, then wearing it at the show's opening, while fanning herself under hot gallery spotlights with a fan marked "Actual Odor," the name of her performance piece.

In 1998, as part of that year's Art Detour, Ellsworth mounted Hemaderby in the Icehouse's enormous Silver Room. For two days, six hours each day, Ellsworth created her own version of the circulatory system in a roller derby setting. Dressed in a glittery ball gown, skates, and a mirrored helmet attached to the ceiling that restricted her movement, the artist made like a lymph node, while other mirror-helmeted skaters, representing red and white blood cells and platelets, moved around her under dramatic colored lights.

Around the time of her Hemaderby performance at the Icehouse, Ellsworth, along with Leslie Hill and Helen Paris, founded Live Art Platform (LAP), a Phoenix-based nonprofit arts group dedicated to performative artwork responsible for a spate of body-based works at Valley venues, including Ellsworth and Takemoto's Squeak and Clean in November of 1999 at the now-defunct but extraordinarily hip Barlow and Straker Gallery. During that feat of endurance, a perfectly coiffed Ellsworth was running on what apeared to be a Nordic Track encased in a large exercise ball, while Takemoto, covered in climbing gear, was scaling a wall in the gallery's back room, all the while drawing on the walls with her feet among exercise balls suspended from the ceiling. On the floor beneath who were 1950s-era handheld massagers attached to large bars of soap, which connected to tubes in Ellsworth's steamy ball prison.

In 2000, ASU Art Museum hosted another Ellsworth performance called "Club Extra," during which the artist took on twisted concepts of beauty, health, fitness, and art museums. For the opening, Ellsworth was transformed into Angie, Club Extra's terminally perky fitness coordinator. In the early 2000s, the artist eventually left Phoenix "for love," moving to L.A. and hooking up with the L.A. Art Girls, a well-known female artists collaborative, but returned to the Valley several years later, where she continued staging singular performances with her trademark sense of existential endurance.

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11 comments
Jack Swift
Jack Swift

Chad, there's nothing ignorant about what I said. What "falsehoods"? What are you, Joseph Smith, anyway -- you mean lies? As for ignorant, look in the mirror Mormon dude! Your church hates gays and opresses women, no matter with the Book of Mormon says. No wonder this artist has spent her life mocking it. You guys are worthy of mockery. And there's nothing racist about New Times letting this woman have a forum. She's an artist of international repute. You have progressive opinions about politics here, Chad, but you are wearing blinders when it comes to your faith. Also, get a grip, this is a review of an aratist's work.

aml55
aml55

At least get your facts right. This is absurd.

Joe
Joe

Russell Pearce is a Mormon and so is this weird bitch.Nothing unusual here.

Stew
Stew

And, like many other previous writers, this one fails to make the distinction between the mainstream Mormon Church and those offshoots who base their religions on the practice of polygamy. FYI, the true Mormon Church officially banned polygamy 120 years ago and had effectively ended the practice long before that. Don't you just love how it's ok to support gay rights, but not ok to allow other people their beliefs? There is enough room in the world for us all, you know.

ChadSnow
ChadSnow

Yo, what "facts" are you referring to? If you're going to make ignorant closed minded comments based on "facts", I'd like to see them. Have you read the Book of Mormon? I doubt it. But I'm not here to argue with you about religion - you are welcome to call me any time and I'd be glad to talk to you about it. I was only making a point that the New Times (and the AZ Republic for that matter) seem to have a perverse fixation with all things Mormon and have no qualms printing outright falsehoods about the Church.

Yo
Yo

Not a bigoted article. Facts are that Smith used silly woo woo to start a religion.

Its like Scientology + 100 years, or Christianity +2000 years. Silly stuff.

ChadSnow
ChadSnow

Jack Swift, you see absolutely nothing bigoted about this piece in the same way that Russell Pearce sees absolutely nothing bigoted about SB1070 - it's all in your perspective I guess. And make no mistake about it - this is not an "art review". How many art reviews have you read that go into the geneology and religious history of the artist?. It's another slam piece by the New TImes on what is the last acceptable bastion of intolerance in our society - Mormons (and Muslims). With all that is going on in Arizona right now, two cover stories in two weeks about gays and Mormons...and you call me sensitive!!! Lacey and Larkin are good guys and should know better.

JSDefender
JSDefender

Just a couple of historical points of clarification. While some believe Joseph Smith, Jr. used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, in fact he used a Urim and Thummim, a device used by High Priests of ancient Israel to divine the will of God for Israel. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were the only first hand witnesses of how Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. Their testimony was that he used a Urim and Thummin. The story that he used a seer stone, a device used for magical or occult divinations, came from those who never observed how Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. For a more in depth explanation of this, read the pamphlet, How the Plates of the Book of Mormon were Translated, by Delbert Smith.

The other point I wish to clarify is that while it is the prevailing opinion that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a polygamist, it is not a fact. Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy is an online work containing over three volumes of evidence supporting the position that he did not teach or practice polygamy. Other people including Brigham Young and eight other Apostles introduced polygamy into the LDS Church. In addition, the evidence and testimonies presented by the Utah LDS Church in the Temple Lot Suit in the 1890s was not sufficient to determine in a court of law that Joseph Smith, Jr. taught or practiced polygamy.

You may obtain a copy of Delbert Smith’s pamphlet or read Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy and the Temple Lot Suit decision at RestorationBookstore.org.

Jack Swift
Jack Swift

Chad, sensitive, aren't you? I see noting remotely bigoted in this piece. Facts are facts, Chad. This artist is hardly the first to call BS on the Mormon Church. Particularly the fundamentalist sect of it. That Mormons despise gays is not exactly a news flash. You know what, Chad, artists are allowed to express themselves as they please, and the press is allowed to report on that. There are constitutional guarantees of this. Sorry that it offends your backward morality. Maybe you should be fitted for a bonnet.

As for you, Rex, maybe you're the one who should lay off the ganja. Those of us with clear heads, not infused with religious bias, had no problem figuring out this art review.

Rex Whitmer
Rex Whitmer

I don't think I have ever read a poorer biography. Whom ever wrote this make no attempt to make it coherant. It rambles and rambles and after spending half an hour trying to find the theme and point of the story I con only conclude that the writer (not corespondent) was likely on something. Along with Chad Snow, I can only conclude that the writer made a great effort to write about what he or she knew nothing of. As a suggested help I would advise abstaining from any form of mind altering substance for at least twelve hours before begining the task.

ChadSnow
ChadSnow

Interesting that New Times can be such a clear voice against racial bigotry but give such a regular platform for religious bigotry. As a lifelong Mormon, I found most of the information in this article about the Mormon church to be either patently false or mythical at best. A bitter ex-Mormon is probably not the best source of information about the Church...

 
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