With Bitchen, Katie Pell has depicted a parallel universe in which women use their disposable income to customize domestic appliances with the competitive zeal of their male counterparts: car fanatics.
An editioned comic book on view in the gallery tells the story. Its seventeen pen, ink, and colored pencil pages follow a group of women who win a class action lawsuit against a major discount retailer and use their small windfall to begin a custom appliance enterprise. The machines eventually become a mainstream phenomenon and ultimately benefit the big box store whose discrimination helped them come into being.
An installation of objects illustrates the narrative. A smoldering purple stove emblazoned with the show’s title spits flames with the flip of a switch; the interior of a candy-colored dryer is tricked out with plush leopard print upholstery and a crystal display that operates on slow rotation; a stand-up freezer is faced with burnt wood murals of deer in love and decked out with a custom knotty pine interior and chandelier. Like hotrod slogans that suggest the creed of the owner, several chromed-out toasters are engraved with a cursive “Love” and “Hate,” a duality that expresses the passion of these everyday ladies.
While the appliances are activated only during staged demonstrations, altered digital portraits show women living with their personalized products. Projected on a wall is video footage of the objects on display at a local car show, where they won second place in the orphan category.
Pell’s Bitchen shares the tale of a motley crew of mothers, sisters, conservatives, and liberals who, unfazed by norms and the imbalanced emphasis on male-defined recreation, just do.