Friday, May 28, 2010

Additionally Sublime

The Facebook invitation for "Additional Support" at SpaceTaker's ARC Gallery ( curated by Lindsey Peyton briefly described the show as "exploring the body's need for support - for aesthetic enhancement, for physical augmentation, and for societal acceptance - and demonstrating the tension between an acceptance of and repulsion to the body." Before seeing the show, the title did not move me. In other words, it didn't tap into my psyche and conjure up any pre-conceived notions. After experiencing the works, I felt the repulsion and felt the support was somewhat ironic. Corsets lined with nails, painfully pretty-fying prosethetics, and portraits of mental, physical, and psychological discomfort aren't exactly the kind of support anyone would want, be they fierce feminist or your average wallflower. It's the kind of support that women have been struggling against since Adam turned to Eve as they were being expelled from the garden of Eden and said, "that pelt makes your butt look big!"

Kelley Devine uses the irony of surrealism to rebel against that type of support. A multi-dimensional artists, her works in this show are sculptures, which I'd roughly describe as enhanced body casts and paper bikini's. (She's an excellent 2-D artist as you can judge for yourself at her website. of the ironies is that Kelly Divine is a self-proclaimed "big butt pornstar" as I discovered when I misspelled Devine's name while googling her.)

The casts aren't subtle, but they're graceful. Imagine a Sports Illustrated model's breast and midriff fashioned into a corset. The inside is lined with nails creating for the potential wearer a figure if not to die for at least to suffer for. Both the theme and the technique are repeated in several other pieces. "Father" is a back replete with nails on the inside and the Lord's prayer scrawled along the spine. "Dressed Down" consists of chrome buttocks and lower back with nails on the inside, the ensemble resting on a petticoat. My favorite piece of Devine's, "Extended," is an arm span raised to 5 feet with white translucent fabric suspended from it and light illuminating the work from underneath. No nails.

The bikini's are playful casts in the same way the sculptures are beautiful, with a nail-jagged twist. Each piece is fashioned from the pages of a different symbolic text. "Wearing His Name" consists of sheets from a hymnal. "35 Fits Me Better Than 25" is made from a treatise on aging. "Nothing Left Hand" is select pages from the artist's divorce decree, and a fourth is fashioned from a dress pattern. The works resonate with a surrealist irony that echoes of Magritte--beautifully-crafted, beautiful and cruel.

For her part in this dialog about support, Jessica Jacobi (I couldn't find a website for her but I found her on Facebook) applies the notion of enhancement to herself. Her works explore the manipulation of the body through decorative machines. She's meticulously manufactured these wearable sculptures, which she refers to loosely as "jewelry" and installed them as standalone sculptures. However, the works come alive when they're put to work.

In a running video installation, Jacobi demonstrates the effect of each piece. This performance includes how one would apply such "jewelry" and the temporal effect that each piece has on the wearer after it is removed. The work is ornate, but scary as demonstrated in the piece used to advertise the show, "Cheekbone Enhancer." This pinches the check, pulling the cheek and lower eyelid from the eye and exposing the red connective tissue surrounding the socket. As she applies these enhancers with names like "Lip Plumper," which crimps and pinches the lip, "Dente Drip," which I'm not sure what it's enhancing but it involves a lot of fake blood, and "Pitter Pat," which binds to her ear, to her own body in the video, I try to maintain a scientific distance, circumnavigating both fear and fetish. The most playful of which is "Breast Sacs," two pendulous nylon sacks filled with scented vaseline and dangling from a clasp that one fastens to their person at either breast level or belt buckle level depending on your personal preference for the placement of pendulous appendages.

There's no hiding it. The re-figuring is dis-figuring and disturbing. If you've seen "Brazil," "Children of the Lost City," or even "Dead Ringers," you can imagine the conceit. The cruelty of the process is innate in the tools used to perform it and achieve the desired result. The wearable sculptures themselves have a medieval feel. Their own aesthetic alludes to the fact that neither the results nor the process are "natural" or "pretty." They're both quirky and quietly unsettling, which makes them oddly engaging.

Hagit Barkai wrestles differently than the rest.

I'm not proud of it, but as a viewer I'm relatively comfortable with gore and repression. Perhaps, that's too much psychological information on my part. Nevertheless, society's permissiveness and my viewing choices have rendered me thus. And thusly, I found Hagit Barkai's work ( the most disturbing pieces in the show. They're neither as surreal nor as direct as Devine and Jacobi's work. Yet, for me they are more viceral. Perhaps, it's her somber pallet. Perhaps, it's her mixture of oblique gestures and obscured facial expressions. Perhaps it's the ambiguous spaces that her figures occupy. Perhaps, it's all three. Nevertheless, her works inspire just the right amount of grief? uncertainty? fear? to momentarily disorient me. The experience conjures up the same feeling as when I am unexpectedly plunged into darkness: surprise and fear, closely followed by the sober recognition that nothing has happened...yet. I don't know who Hagit would list as her influences. I'd locate her work somewhere between Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. Howard Sherman ( noted an affinity with the painter, Jean Rustin ( Nevertheless, if I were going to instruct someone on the gestural aesthetics of dislocation and dark forebodings, I'd set them in front of Barkai's "In Difference 4" or "Blindfold" or one form the "Vomiter" series, while I sought out a double-espresso and happy, canned jazz at my local coffee bar. 

You might be tempted to criticize the art works in this show as hyperbolic, but are they really? In what we deem "Reality" in various cultures throughout the world, women inject the lethal toxin botulism, popularly known as Botox, into their bodies. They insert metal plates in their lips, have their necks artificially extended, and have their clitorises removed, all to achieve their local culture's idea of "good enough". In the conversation on feminism and womanhood, that kind of reality doesn't leave an artist much room either symbolically or metaphorically. In this show, I like each artist's tone. It's neither too subtle for my eye to see nor too shrill for my ear.

Kudos to the curator, Lindsey Peyton. I'm not sure how she knew to bring these three artist together, but I'm glad she did. The works are nicely intermingled: Hagit's pale nude woman with her head obscured by an ochre blotch adjacent to Jacobi's video of herself applying her jewelry; Devine's bikini's chorus lining in front of Barkai's "Indifference" series of men and women huddling/embracing with Jacobi's "Breast Sac" (vaseline filled nylon sacks) looming off to the side. The thoughtful arrangement ensures that the works compliment each other rather than compete.

...sometimes, defiance is beautiful.