At first, I shrugged off MATERIAL GIRLS as a newfangled hashtag that I would never exert the effort to follow. I saw it a few more times on Instagram and still breezed past thinking, is Gallery Girls, a show on Bravo that I truly never watched, still around? My brain combined MATERIAL GIRLS and Gallery Girls and in retrospect, I suspect I fell completely for their nod to the series. I became enamored by the Instagram posts in my feed tagged #materialgirls — videos of Rachael Starbuck running her hands over leaves and a delightful clip of Gracelee Lawrence dancing before the opening reception of another exhibition of hers.

I love the way the collective seeped into my life months before announcing their current exhibition xoxo at the Museum of Human Achievement. For xoxo, each of the six members of the collective invited another artist to make a work representing their interpretation of a vessel. Their exhibition text states, “As a reciprocal object, the vessel is always understood in relation — the space inside an empty vessel as a site of potential energy. The act of making a vessel is an opportunity to draw, define, and describe our own boundaries.”

A screen dropped from the ceiling stops visitors at the entrance of Museum of Human Achievement. Same, a multi-channel compilation of videos, plays on both sides of the screen and along a wall. These short videos were sent from member to member, in an effort to mirror and respond to each other. A finger dips into blue liquid, bare feet walk through a pool, a person kneads a handful of dirt that leaves black specks against her pale skin.

An iPhone frozen in a block of ice sits in a clear acrylic container as part of Devra Freelander’s Late capitalistic relic. As the ice melts, it fills the container and the iPhone sinks. The square container sits on a mat cut into the shape of a puddle. For flies in the kitchen, Rachael Starbuck cast a pair of shorts from latex house paint and placed them upside down on a blue rectangle. The folds of paint are identical to the folds of sewn fabric. I recall seeing an image of her wearing the shorts on Instagram and without that, I might not believe the shorts functioned. In Claire Lachow’s As a gesture of goodwill, two elongated arms printed on clear vinyl hang from the ceiling and rest, beseechingly, on the top of a pedestal. An exquisite painting by Emily Hartley-Skudder, Soft Cut Flowers Blooming in Vases/She Could Smell Everything depicts a still life that I took for a photograph at first glance. Flowers in vases sit on a shelf nearby and, again, I wonder if I am falling for a ploy created by MATERIAL GIRLS or were the flowers already in the gallery space?

In some ways, xoxo may be experienced through Instagram feeds (which is helpful since the exhibition was only on view for two weeks). During the run of the exhibition, each work was posted and described. While social media does not replace the experience of seeing art in person, the added layer energized xoxo in a sincere and lovely way.

Through the collective’s promotion of each individual’s practice and those of their colleagues, they fulfill the exhibition statement previously quoted. When I see MATERIAL GIRLS online, I feel like I am watching, for the first time, a group of women really hoisting each other upward and forward. For those who missed the show, @material.grls will fill your Instagram feed with the absolute joy of a group of women supporting each other’s practice in sincerity and generosity.

Photo by Ryan Hawk.

xoxo was on view at the Museum of Human Achievement January 19–28, 2018. Images courtesy of MATERIAL GIRLS.


MATERIAL GIRLS is a non-local collective of six female-identifying artists formed in 2016. Their work focuses on the power of objects and the negotiation between digital and physical space, as well as the facilitation of a supportive network for female-identified artists and thinkers. They have shown work nationally at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show in New York, Sadie Halie Projects in Minneapolis, Trestle Projects in Brooklyn, and at the Museum of Human Achievement in Austin, Texas. MATERIAL GIRLS consists of Cameron Coffman, Devra Freelander, Hilliary Gabryel, Claire Lachow, Gracelee Lawrence, and Rachael Starbuck.


Thao Votang is co-editor of Conflict of Interest, a writer, and co-founder of Tiny Park.

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