JULIA PHILLIPS:
Fixator (#2) (2017)

MoMA PS1 | April 15 – September 3, 2018

Julia Phillips, Fixator (#2) (detail), 2017. Partially glazed ceramics, nylon screws, and metal structure. Photo by the author.

As if we could scrape the color off the iris and still see.

—Maggie Nelson, Bluets

What is most disconcerting about Fixator is what it lacks. The voids between its structural elements seem to weigh more than the solid ceramic and metal structures  making up the imaginary body now resident in PS1’s creaky galleries.

Fixator invites quasi-forensic analysis. Harnessed, de-sexed, Phillips’s figure offers evidence of its erasure, but no reason behind the violence. On the tiled floor, glazed footsteps describe a slight stagger—not quite natural, but no struggle, either. The tight grip of another body’s hands encroaches just above the floor. In the negative of squeezed clay between fingers lies a certain ambiguity: are these hands steadying the whole construction, or enforcing the first body’s imprisonment? At the sculpture’s center, a toned pelvis leads down to another void—whatever organ lay beneath has been removed, peeled at the seams. Above, a small chin support is all that remains of a head. All marks of identity—facial features, genitals, fingers, toes—are absent. On the tiled floor, grayed blue drips register as any number of highly specific body fluids.

Passing around the sculpture, the glossy black glaze of the ceramic opens to a mottled blue interior. Here, in stark contrast to the austere frontal presentation, life is evident, expressive, unconstrained.

Julia Phillips, Fixator (#2), 2017. Partially glazed ceramics, nylon screws, and metal structure. Courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo: Kris Graves.

I remember placing my chin on that cold molded support the first time I went to the optometrist. Pressed up against the comical contraption of lenses and rulers, head and limbs held at precise angles, no longer just myself but a hybrid of flesh and enhancements—the rush of clarity at odds with the filter between object and observer.

Perhaps there is equal humanity in the cold sharpness of black letters against a white background, and the beauty of smoothed fields of focus and flares of blue and yellow from rubbing your eye sockets too hard. But, in Fixator, I am drawn to those undefined moments of color—color so specific it seems to bleed out from the structures that contain its form.

It would be productive to view the voids in Fixator in conversation with sculptural fragments across history, such as the arresting pair of orphaned stone and bronze eyes from 5th century BCE Greece at the Met, or any lost marble or wooden phallus, chiseled off its owner or covered with cloth for decency.

Fixator signals a departure from volume in figure sculpture, and moves toward a focus on inflection points around absence, wounds, and alterations. The skins surrounding these events display both exterior and interior realities—bringing awareness to contradictory natures within a subject, and the scaffolding that alternately empowers or imprisons its subject.

Contributor

Louis Block

LOUIS BLOCK is a painter based in Brooklyn.

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