TRIIIBE: same difference, Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, MA

By Jean Dykstra, May 23, 2016

TRIIIBE creates the tableau, Fine #1. Photo by TRIIIBE Original file number: TRIBE090113_COUCH_ 113
TRIIIBE, Fine, 2010. Courtesy the artists and Gallery Kayafas

Performance artists and identical triplets Alicia, Kelly, and Sara Casilio have been mining their sameness to question identity and gender politics since they were undergraduates at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. In 2006 they began working with retired National Geographic photographer Cary Wolinsky and formed the artist collective Triiibe. Their staged photographs, often crafted as site-specific installations, require extensive planning, costume designers, hair and make-up specialists, and digital post-production. An intriguing feature of their current exhibition, on view through June 5 at the Fitchburg Art Museum, is a behind-the-scenes look at the many steps involved in producing their multi-layered constructions. Costumes, props, and wigs are on display along with video interviews of each member of Triiibe speaking about his or her process. Though an impressive visual spectacle, too many of the images address political and cultural issues that are at least six years old, and revisiting these concerns no longer feels so relevant or emotionally provocative.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a re-staging of seven large-scale triptychs, In Search of Eden (2010). Loosely based on Old Testament tales concerning Adam, Eve, and the apple that sparked self-awareness, the suite originally debuted at Boston University’s 808 Gallery. In the ensuing years, however, it has lost some of its luster. Take Royal Gala, in which Triiibe re-casts Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters as a family of contemporary migrant workers huddled around their meager table eating pre-packaged fast food. By taking on both male and female roles, the identical sisters are seeking empathy for humankind’s similarities over differences. But does this photograph really help viewers consider the plight of migrant workers as cheap laborers? Too often the end results are platitudes about inequality, desire, and seduction, which pale in comparison to the scale and craftsmanship of the work.

TRIIIBE, Miss, 2010. Courtesy the artists and Gallery Kayafas
TRIIIBE, Miss, 2010. Courtesy the artists and Gallery Kayafas

Sometimes the outdated issues create an interesting albeit unintended conversation. The lenticular Equal Opportunity (2006/2010) gains renewed meaning through a present-day lens. The lenticular process allows two images to be seen simultaneously, so three pregnant women are also three pregnant men. Originally made to protest the inequality of women bearing all the burdens of pregnancy, it more provocatively coincides with the present debate over transgender access to restrooms. Intentional or not, this photograph hints at how gender politics continues to evolve.