SAFE GALLERY | FEBRUARY 16 - MARCH 18, 2018
Anyone who has been unnerved and delighted by the effects of a face swap app will recognize the energies of dismemberment and reconfiguration in Kari Cholnoky’s new work. The seven paintings, two sculptures, and video that Cholnoky exhibited at Safe Gallery reveal her fascination with the recombination of disparate parts, particularly of body parts. Painters have copied, cut, and pasted body fragments into new composites for centuries. When an artist smooths over the seams or stitching, the composite is returned to coherence and unity, but when lines and cracks are left in plain sight, fragmentation and imperfection are emphasized. Cholnoky’s work clearly belongs to the second of these two tendencies. Her paintings and sculptures are amalgamations of parts that cannot cohere. She makes no attempt to deliver the small satisfactions of easy unitary solutions but looks instead with wide-eyed wonder at the unruliness of the world.
Her four-minute video, Shake/Weight (2018), was projected onto a wall near the entrance to the gallery. It depicted the work of a pair hands as they shook a polyurethane sex toy back and forth. Contact mics had been affixed to the toy and its every movement produced a hard, percussive thud. As the hands jiggled the toy more and more vigorously, the gallery filled with the crash of increasingly louder and faster beats. Presented as a continuous loop, the video seemed at first like a dimensionless and obnoxious ploy. But after spending time with other artworks in the gallery the video’s purpose became clearer. Cholnoky fastened sex toys to surfaces of all the paintings and sculptures in the show and she freely sampled from online imagery of sexbots and avatars. A theme of web-facilitated desire soon emerged and consequently the video looked stranger than it had before. The toy had the mouth, cheeks, and chin of an adult man but that’s about it. The toy was self-contained and severely amputated at the same time. Close-up shots made the mouth larger and larger while the hands pried the mouth open to reveal the throat. Cholnoky’s unflinching investigation of the material object revealed its silliness and absurdity, and left the object’s uncanniness intact.
In many ways Cholnoky makes this uneasy terrain absolutely unlovable. The colors she uses evoke both poisonous toxicity and drabness of institutional greys and greens. Many pieces are upholstered in artificial fur that has been slathered with thick paint. Tufts of hair jut out here and there. It seems as if some care had gone toward repelling the public. And yet it was impossible to ignore the fluctuations between delicate and exuberant humor in Cholnoky’s use of her materials. The neon colored surface of Floaters/Flashes (2018) was dotted with a pattern of little tan tufts of fur that would have charmed Bonnard and Vuillard. Smile (2018) was painted in a high key canary yellow but instead of applying daubs of color Cholnoky simply cut the yellow encrusted bristles off of her old paint brushes and glued them onto the painting. Her handling of materials is smart, inventive, and unusual. But her use of provocative content is less developed. Cholnoky printed out excerpts of customer reviews from the sex toys’ Amazon product pages and pasted them onto the surfaces of the works. All the photographically reproduced imagery on the artworks had been printed on fleece blankets that the artist custom ordered from Walmart. She then cut the images from the blankets and glued them onto the paintings and sculptures. The elements of an argument or insight into web-facilitated and digitally produced desire were in place but there was no elaboration of any particular point. Underdeveloped provocations like these fell flat. Perhaps, for Cholnoky, wonderment at the variety of desire itself is sufficient.
Chris Kaspar is a writer who lives in New York.