What happens when a community’s foundational beliefs ultimately lead to their inability to thrive? A once rapidly growing utopian society, the Shaker’s numbers have now dwindled due to a rigid belief system demanding celibacy, autonomy, and skepticism of new members. The Shakers in the present day are left with only two members, their society soon to be survived only by their work, most notably their exquisitely labored furniture and impressive archive of songs. Recent work by Mara Baldwin considers this post-utopian landscape and legacy left behind, exploring the persistence of a disappeared community by examining what remains. This work does not seek to provide a historical recreation or celebration of Shaker traditions specifically, but views their labor and devotion as a departure point for creating work that blurs the lines between collectivity & authorship, mourning & survival, and reminiscence & change. Baldwin’s greater practice explores the space between real and imagined narratives from utopian literature, folk tales, ghost stories, and pulp paperback science fiction. Her drawings, sculptures, and installations pay particular attention to the historical spaces, emotional politics, longings, and labor of women. Through obsessive repetition and detailed laborious rendering, historical & fictional narratives are unraveled to question issues of authenticity, community, and inclusivity.
Mara Baldwin received her MFA from the California College of the Arts (2010) and her BFA from Wesleyan University (2006). Her work has shown at the Johnson Art Museum (Cornell University), Facebook Manhattan, PLAySPACE, the San Francisco Arts Commission, SOMArts, UC Berkeley, Triple Base Gallery, Root Division, and Capricious/Company Gallery. Her accolades include the Murphy Cadogan Award, an SFMoMA SECA nomination, and residencies with the Millay Colony, Ucross Foundation, Saltonstall Foundation, and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. She currently lives and works in Ithaca, New York.