A terrible beauty

Dorothy Cross’s art is as beautiful as it is dreadful. Beautiful in its ability to aesthetically resolve formal issues and dreadful in its embrace of the more terrifying characteristics of nature. And it is in this intersection of artifice and nature, this chiasm, that the artist has secured her rich vein of subject matter.

Cross is an artist with whom I have grown up, we are the same generation and I have always approached her art as a calibration of my own progress and maturity. Her work can, with ease, be discussed within the academic language of post-feminism or within the development of surrealism through the twentieth century. However it is through its ability to speak to the fundamental human condition that the work gains its authority.
In previous sculptures and installation pieces, Cross attempted to redress archetypal symbols of power by adding feminine characteristics. This was not done out of some simplified notion of gender politics but to expose that elemental energy that is able manifest itself in either gender. Cross’s more recent work has expanded in spectacular ways on this investigation.

In her practice Cross has oscillated between studio work and larger public projects. Among these public excursions one can count Shark-Cow-Bathtub, 1994 and more recently, Ghost Ship, 1999 and Chiasm also 1999. Common to all three is the use of the sea as a metaphorical device to represent the indifferent power that ebbs and flows within all of nature (humankind included). This energy may have erotic or morbid manifestations and nowhere has Cross communicated its power for beauty and destruction more than in Chiasm. At the core of the work is romantic love - that most irrational of all emotions that can fulfil, destroy or change an individual with its profundity. Cross’s strategy of combining opera, architecture and video projection has allowed her to handle its poignancy without slipping into melodrama or sentimentality.

Cross’s concern with such topics allies her with a small group of artists, such as Bill Viola and Robert Gober, who are defined by their ability to create art that addresses the extraordinary energy that pervades our most ordinary lives.

Patrick T. Murphy


Seemingly shipwrecked remains on the rocky shelf
just above high-water level, unpretentious, without monumental forms,
the sculptures, Shark-Cow – (but without Bathtub)
Want to see them? – the sculptures – you must go to them
They are not like advertisements that cling to you
whether you want them to or not.
Shark-Cow waits on the rocky shore, without demanding or promising anything at all
Waiting – not far from Saint Olaf’s springs in the mountainside –
where people through the ages sought healing and rejuvenation
from the mountain itself.
The shark on the stones, strutting female breasts, erotic attributes
no cunning mass-murderer, more like a pregnant creature
Watch yourself, a pregnant shark!
idly drifting in the current, foaming dream
at the coastline, seaweed, kelp, the ocean’s superfluous myriad
Stone udder, on the rocks, close to the shark, voluptuous, near
the shore where the waves break rumbling from east, south and west –
Stone udder, upturned stretching toward the sky, four full fountains
life-giving, obstinate
Sun that hovers on the mountain range to the north of the straits
sea spray that seeks to lift the sea in the air through the sound
Tranquil or stormy – shark, udder on stone – notions of eternity
where land and ocean meet.
Bathtub? – the human element on the stone embankment? –
vanity! – gurgling between ebb and tide!
lifted, shoved, torn, dragged away to the bottom of the sea
to ocean floor
Powerful primitive forces of time at work
Back to the stone stair- the shark with strutting female breasts
Upturned stone udder straining...

Dag Skogheim

They will be placed all the way down by the shore – the shark with female breasts, the pink cow’s udder and the rusty bathtub. I love rust!
Dorothy Cross, Helgeland Arbeiderblad 24.08.93

Out in the wilderness we catch sight of a bathtub which has seen better days! What an artistic experience! Quite spellbound, we stand and look at the inverted udder – not to mention the busty shark!
Ole Steen, Brønnøysunds Avis 01.09.93

And now the Cultural Affairs office in Sømna must go searching for the missing Shark-Cow-Bathtub
...reports Brønnøysund Avis, 24.01.1995