On ViewRegina Rex
February 28 – April 10, 2016
Everyday life presents each of us with the opportunity to play out a carefully choreographed (if unrecognized) performance: I rise, I shower, I dress, I walk. In Juliana Cerqueira Leite’s set of five sculptural works, exhibited under the title INTRANSITIVE, pink, yellow, and purple Hydrocal casts of the artist’s body document her interaction with a collection of DIY furniture built for the exhibit. The sculptures attest to a reciprocal relationship between artist and object that challenge notions of agency and narrative in the artistic process.
Leite’s process began with the construction of the cardboard and plywood furniture and a temporary raised plywood floor in the gallery space. Before the exhibition’s opening, she spent a week and a half interacting with the furniture in a series of habitual gestures, completing a sort of private performance. In each individual pose, performed more than once with each piece of furniture, Leite created a cast of part of her body in Hydrocal: by using different colors of plaster for each interaction she preserved the temporal overlap of multiple poses with one piece of furniture. Working at a desk, sitting on a chair, lying on a cot, Leite inscribed the action of her pose into her titles, Sit, Reach, Work, Lay, and Get In. Finally, after setting the casts of her body, Leite removed the DIY furniture, leaving only her sculptures in the gallery.
The soft pastel pink, yellow, and purple tones of the material contrast sharply with the furious, expressive lines of these sculptures. Leite has not allowed the Hydrocal to simply flow across her body. Instead of smooth, sensuous surfaces, she offers surfaces obsessively worked over, nearly tortured into the expressive forms they take on in relation to her body. In Sit, the tracks of her fingers are visible where she has spread the plaster down her torso. And though each color of plaster represents a different interaction between Leite’s body and the furniture, these layers are wildly mixed, not fixed together in any simple way. The sculptures, thus, do not provide a stratified record of Leite’s unseen performance that could be mined archeologically for a chronology of sculptural practice. In addition to the confused temporality of the unseen performance, Leite offers a turbulent materialized interpretation of the relation between body and object, in this case the latter being the idea of solid support—the furniture—that has evaporated from view.
As much as Leite sculpts these Hydrocal casts, the objects she poses against also sculpt her body by forcing it into quotidian positions of sitting, lying, and leaning. In the absence of both the furniture and Leite’s body, the sculptures make visible both the object and body. In Lay, for example, the viewer might distinguish the form of a cot at the same time as she notices the bend of a knee where Leite has lain on the cot. A kind of double negative develops, revealing the impression of both body and object. Indeed, Leite’s titles assign neither object nor subject to the verbs and so gesture to the grammatical class of intransitive verbs referenced by the exhibition’s title. The intransitive state, these sculptures seem to remind us, is one that emphasizes the action and not the receiving object of that action. Unlike representational sculpture of an object or a human body, these sculptures take action itself as their model, materializing it as the binding force in the double negative relationship between body and object. In other words, these sculptures resist total identification with either a model (Leite’s body or the furniture) or an artist-subject (Leite’s “I”) in favor of the reciprocal relationship between the two.
This double negative expresses, too, the conditions of confinement under which Leite created these forms. The smaller of two rooms at the gallery houses the exhibition, and the temporary floor built by Leite seems to lower the ceiling and to heighten the feeling of confinement in the space itself. Leite’s decision to cast the sculptures in situ forces her, and the viewer’s, negotiation of a series of relational constraints between the body and the furniture, the viewing body and the sculpture, the sculpture and Leite’s performance, and even between the viewer and that clandestine performance.
The excision of subject and object from the titles of these sculptures speaks to the conditions of constraint and confinement that determine their forms, as well. Without subject or object in their titles, the sculptures resist narrative—not “I reach for my lunch” or “I work at the desk” but simply “reach” and “work.” The quotidian objects that Leite reacts with and against imply a certain kind of banal narrative of routinized daily life. But in the tempestuous, turbulent materiality of Leite’s invisible performance, narrative gives way to a space of disseminated subjectivity, where body and object act equally upon one another.
Phillip Griffith is a writer, editor, and scholar living in New York City.