LIZA BUZYTSKY and KAWITA VATANAJYANKUR: Staminaby Alexandra Hammond
SECRET DUNGEON | SEPTEMBER 10 – OCTOBER 22, 2017
Stamina is a two-person exhibition in a storage unit-turned-gallery in an East Williamsburg parking garage. Curated by Alexandra Fanning, the show includes two video works by Thai-Australian artist Kawita Vatanajyankur and an ongoing sculpture-performance by the Brooklyn-based Russian-American Liza Buzytsky. Women’s labor, its traditionally hidden and undervalued status, and its relationship to women’s bodies are central and unifying themes. The title of the show refers to the endurance required of women in our ongoing struggle for wages, security, and recognition. For both artists, materials provide a key reference to the sphere of femininity and cultural identity. Buzytsky uses fiber (in this case clotheslines), and Vatanajyankur uses fruits and vegetables from Southeast Asia.
The works in Stamina point to what Italian-American feminist scholar and activist Silvia Federici calls the “expropriated” domestic labor of women in a capitalist system. For Federici, the system of wage labor has been predicated on the unpaid work of women, both in preparing the workforce for each day through domestic maintenance and by the literal reproduction of the workforce through the birthing and rearing of children (future workers).
In Buzytsky’s piece 200 Hours (2017), the work of producing the sculpture opens conversation between artist and viewer. Buzytsky’s work is constructed by hand, knot by knot, while the artist chats with viewers. The presence of the artist at work gives viewers an opportunity to muse about its progress and meaning in real time. Buzytsky’s piece makes manifest the feminist concept of gossip as knowledge production; in this case, it is gossip as sculpture production.
There are also archetypally sinister connotations of this work. Like the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, the artist occupies the Secret Dungeon to grow her sculpture day by day. In the bedroom-sized gallery space, the sculpture threatens to fill the room. The amorphous form appears to drip from the ceiling, where it hangs from an I-beam. It is either a heavy-duty spider web or a nest-like series of hammocks that viewers can occupy.
In contrast to Buzytsky’s genial process, Vatanajyankur’s brightly-colored videos belie the punishing labor they depict. In Scale of Justice (2016), the artist’s body becomes a scale. She balances her hips on a bar, one large basket of vegetables hanging from her neck, the other from her ankles. Cabbages and long beans drop from an unknown source above, tipping the artist’s body like a teeter-totter: head down, legs up, and vice versa. The scene’s bright pink backdrop, the artist’s white sundress, and the pastel green of the vegetables contrasts uncomfortably with an action that looks unsustainable.
In her second video, The Scale (2015), Vatanajyankur is positioned in a yoga pose known as a shoulder stand against a chartreuse background. She balances a blue plastic crate of sliced watermelon on her feet, approximating the form of a counter-top scale used to weigh produce at market. More and more watermelon drops wetly from above into the overflowing crate, littering the floor and splattering the artist’s body with red juice and chunks of fruit. The artist’s face remains stoic, with closed eyes, as fruit continues to fall from an unseen source above. The scene is part comedy routine, part torture.
In both works, Vatanajyankur’s body attempts to support what it cannot. It is constantly bombarded with more material in endless video loops where we see neither the setup for the action, nor the body’s liberation from its tasks—the scales are never balanced. From a different perspective, however, Vatanajyankur’s videos can be seen as depictions of a woman’s body embracing a cyborg-like identity: the body becoming machine in a practice of strength and resilience.
By referencing women’s work, Vatanajyankur and Busytsky also reference labor in general, which often takes place behind the scenes in kitchens and factories. The location of Secret Dungeon, a room hidden in a parking garage within the traditionally industrial neighborhood of East Williamsburg, intensifies this narrative. There is a sense of witnessing activity that has been taking place forever, invisible until now.
Alexandra Hammond is a multi-disciplinary artist and ambivalent utopian. She was born and raised in northern California and is now based in Brooklyn.