The Concept


The Medusa Project (working title) is a work in progress, and will be a series of 26 paintings/digital images and mini-essays, composed and written by Liza Brenner and Melissa Meade, respectively. One female archetype or slang word for each letter of the alphabet, the series articulates visual imagery with language to explore the ways we characterize and talk about women. Informed by intersectional feminist history, material culture, and the interplay between form and narrative, it’s an excavation project, digging into the challenge of the question, “what is a woman?” It’s also a love letter to the multiplicity of experience and language we have for women. 

The Process


We converse each week over zoom, while the global pandemic unfolds, the new civil rights movement takes shape, and while the climate changes reveal themselves in the form of fires, smokey air, and extreme heat. We talk about the complicated lives of women, our own lives as women, and the complications involved with talking about women. We find gendered words that interest us, that evoke imagery and ideas, and that contain depths of history and experience. We dissect the words used for women, looking for connections between the past and the present. We look for patterns, contexts, insights, fantasies, and, most of all, for the fissures in what sometimes feels like rigid expectations for gendered life. It’s part academic and part therapy, these conversations. 


As Melissa writes, Liza unpacks each term to begin a painting or digital image. The challenge becomes how to walk the fine line between addressing the word versus addressing the picture plane more formally. Inevitably categories among the paintings have emerged, with some taking on a more literal interpretation of the word represented, and others resting on the surface, leaving the viewer to search for answers among the colors and shapes. Liza began with a set of vintage picture blocks, rearranging them for each painting. She also incorporated the image of an antique porcelain figurine, a figure that conjures a gender ideal that is both in and out of place in the paintings. The figure watches, absorbs, and calls to mind questions of race, class, and sexuality. As the project has grown, Liza found these initial parameters for the scenarios too restrictive, and has moved into digital expression. This move from the blocks and figurine frees us somewhat, both literally and metaphorically, to continue on with the Medusa Project. 




Dr. Melissa Meade is Dean of Humanities, Communication, and the Arts  at South Puget Sound Community College. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Washington and her B.A. from Purdue University. Before coming to Olympia, she taught communication, media and feminist studies at Colby-Sawyer College and has worked with the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force, The Third Wave Fund, and the Feminist Technology Network. Most recently she has presented her work on communication, media and psychoanalysis to the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education and the Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study.
On occasion, as they had just witnessed, she was capable of the volubility of a fishwife; with them her reserve was impregnable.-Project Gutenberg