Melissa Vandenberg’s practice is informed by the assembly-belt industries of her hometown, Detroit, and the homespun aesthetic of the Southern U.S., where she now lives. She often utilizes found objects, including domestic goods coded as women’s work, to construct narratives about the limits of patriotism and faith. As Vandenberg writes, her art “questions the notion of a ‘homeland’ and how national identity intertwines with individual identity.” Vandenberg’s burn drawings, made from matchsticks ignited across Arches paper, reference the U.S. military’s foreign interventions and the celebratory pyrotechnics of the Fourth of July. These works implicitly critique the relationship between overseas “freedom missions” and attempts to curtail civil and reproductive rights at home. In Bang Bang 2 (all works 2017) a Colt Peacemaker firearm points at a uterus; Glory Daze creates a homophonic pun on conservative yearnings to “Make America Great Again.” The stuffed sculpture PATRIOT, sewn from sagging surplus military fabric, is part of a series of semi-deflated objects. Vandenberg’s previous soft sculptures have represented such loaded symbols as national monuments and gravestones. Waterworks, 2013, combines a life jacket, teardrop-shaped chandelier crystals, and a broken public works barrier. Juxtaposed, the materials suggest precarious immigration tales and climate change-induced catastrophes.
— Wendy Vogel