Mychaelyn Michalec | Trying to get all my birds to land in the yard

Opening reception April 13, 2024 from 3 -  6 PM MST at K Contemporary, 1412 Wazee Street, Denver, CO 80202.  The artist will be in attendance.



"Men have hitherto treated women like birds which have strayed down to them from the heights; as something more delicate, more fragile, more savage, stranger, sweeter, soulful- but as something which has to be caged up so that it shall not fly away." 

—Friedrich Nietzsche



Mychaelyn Michalec’s first major solo exhibition at the gallery takes her hand- and machine-tufted rug wall hangings in new compositional and thematic directions. While depictions of women's empowerment remain central, her new hangings question as much as they assert. No longer rectilinear, her irregularly shaped works organize themselves around hackneyed expressions that compare female behavior to that of birds.  


The mythology of birds as symbols and omens is often conflated with women. Leda and the Swan, Hera and her owl, mythical winged female monsters such as harpies and sirens are some examples. Seemingly full of contradiction, women and birds are regarded as wild and free as well as domesticated and caged. They are alternately skittish and stable, knowable and unknowable, cunning yet full of grace. Bird-centric colloquialisms such as “flighty”, “bird-brained”, “fair-feathered”, and “hen- pecked” are used to denigrate. With nearly grown children, Michalec is about to be an “empty nester”. As a single woman for the first time in years, she is a “chick.” 


In Michalec’s world, wild birds represent something divine. Once domesticated, they speak to subordination, oppression, and adherence to patriarchal authority. She explains, “Second-wave feminism promised to release us from the gilded cage to provide us opportunity and equity. But it has failed. Told by the first generation that we could “have it all,” our expectations were dashed, and we soon came crashing back to Earth like Icarus after flying too close to the sun.” 


These notions manifest themselves in works like Hypericum perforatum (I am the poison and the antidote), 2023 which is loosely based on a work by deceased artist Ree Morton. Here the bodies of Michalec and Morton merge with that of birds -- all seemingly seeking methods of escape. Like Morton, Michalec believes it’s a feminist act to make work personal and doesn’t shy away from exposing her body, ideas, and struggles. Both prioritized art-making later in life, putting strain on their children and marriages.  


“Even though they’re a generation apart,” comments K Contemporary Director, Jennifer Berry, “their challenge to be independent and authentic is the same. By expressing herself through fiber, Michalec also recognizes the legacy of traditional craft materials and processes being associated with women’s work.” 


All my geese are swans, 2023 incorporates vintage lace and feathers to examine what it looks and feels like to be a woman at midlife trying to reconcile sexuality, life force, and wisdom with an aging body and a judgmental society. With her new body of work, Michalec is heroic, courageously visible, and refusing to be relegated to cliche. She incorporates herself into mythology and art history to reveal how she’s a point on a continuum.