Garden Dwellersby Alexandra Hammond
Regina Rex | July 12 – August 9, 2017
Garden Dwellers, a vibrant group show of 23 works by 13 artists on view at Regina Rex on the Lower East Side, assembles a biodiversity of artworks full of rebellious color and fertile thinking. Described as “an Eden in the city,” the exhibition has little time for the shame of a disobedient Eve—nor the perpetuation of the Cartesian split between mind and body used by Western thought to subjugate women, colonized peoples, and nature. Instead, it leaps unabashedly into a radical jouissance, the French term for orgasm or bliss that Hélène Cixous, by way of Jacques Lacan uses as a rallying cry for abundant, effervescent, female creativity. These garden dwellers bask in earthly delights, as in Amy Lincoln’s luminous Afro-Caribbean-inflected depictions of florid jungles in radioactive technicolor Lily and Ranunculus (2017), which challenge the staid colonial gaze of a Henri Rousseau-like imagination. Here the lilies themselves touch, penetrate, and transform us with their own agency.
The namesake of Garden Dwellers is an oil painting in taupe, black, and green by EJ Hauser, garden dwellers (spring) (2015) which can be read as an abstract picture of potted plants and a wrought-iron gate, or as a map of a secret garden. Like all of the works in this show, its perspective dissolves the boundaries between self and the other, body and mind, inside and outside, evoking the pre-Oedipal pleasure in the body before the separation of knowledge from desire.
Other works depict raucous unwieldy bodies such as Heidi Norton’s large glass sculpture Spirals (2015), a representation of the body’s system of interior spaces, tubes and openings where a sprig of bamboo stands in where the head might be. Similarly, Dave Hardy’s foam, cement, and mixed media works are stuffed into rectangles that hang on the wall like soft white bellies seated on the beach in the first days of summer. Maureen St. Vincent’s drawings of knots of limbs, tulips, breasts and vulvas offer recognizable bits of the figure woven into undulating abstract forms. With related humor but a different pictorial language, Portia Munson’s Potpourri (2000) is a tightly rendered still life of matching pink dildo, wax lips, swollen thumb, and disembodied vulva.
But if one were to imagine how this world of jouissance could be physically accessed, it would be through one of Fabienne Lasserre’s many hanging membranes. These sculptures are made from transparent vinyl stretched over an organically ovular frame suggesting windows, sprayed with a gradient of color that fades from opaque to clear. Each is large enough to envelop one’s entire body, providing a color-tinted lens through which to view the gallery.
Offering a critique of power, race and gender, Abbey Williams’ video La Mulatta (2007) overlays transparent footage of the artist as she mimics the posture of a 19th century slave bust by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. This haunting gesture gives life to the sculpture: her edges are blurred by the overlay, her eyes blink. The artist mimics Carpeaux’s baroque pose, acknowledging the ongoing impact of a history of subjugated bodies while also occupying and altering the images that male European artists have used to control women of color. Similarly, Bryce Zackery’s Coal Miner (2017), a relief sculpture of rope and paint presents a naked fauvist figure who bathes from a bucket of water in front of the coal pit, as if to release himself into a zone of ecstasy after a day of sooty work fueling the industrial economy.
In this sense, the jouissance of Garden Dwellers invites us into ongoing dialogues about gender, race, nature and the body where, instead of mourning paradise lost, we revel in the fact that we already dwell here.
Alexandra Hammond is a multi-disciplinary artist and ambivalent utopian. She was born and raised in northern California and is now based in Brooklyn.