February 6 – April 7, 2019
I like a lot of what I saw at the third BRIC Biennial, but I collect articles abandoned on Brooklyn curbs. Human teeth, intact ponytails, the remnants of birthday balloons, a torn copy of Sarah Waters's Tipping the Velvet—these are a few of the objects on view. The biennial carries the air of the hodgepodge, which makes sense given that one criteria for entry was residency in the imprecise salmagundi called South Brooklyn, encompassing Park Slope, Gowanus, Greenwood Heights, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge. Eighteen artists and one collective duo are included in the biennial's main show, located at BRIC House; five additional satellite shows curated by external galleries or groups are on view nearby.
The biennial's theme, "The Impossible Possible," is an oxymoronic reference to the ludicrous state of our political and cultural worlds today. Assistant curator Jenny Gerow notes that BRIC's last biennial, in 2017, opened the morning after Trump's election, and was consequently tinged by chaos. This iteration aims to build on its history, positioning the inconceivable (if not anarchic) as central to the artistic process.
Gerow and Elizabeth Ferrer, BRIC's Vice President of Contemporary Art, subcategorizes the biennial's components, which makes it even trickier to digest. The already small space is, apparently, divided between "the body," "landscape," and "the fantastical." Temporary walls aid structurally, but conceptually the taxonomy feels like gerrymandering: why give the biennial such an intentionally ambiguous title only to undercut it with rules? The matter is muddled further by the inclusion of several large sculptures that, too big for their enclosures, hulk awkwardly in the gallery's spatial limn. Of these, Liz Collins's Strainer (2019), a utilitarian-seeming rope and wood goliath, appears particularly out of place. On the other hand, Chasing Their Ponytails (2016–2018), a charming sculpture by the collective Las Hermanas Iglesias, is given quite a lot of room to swim between the corporeal and terrestrial corrals.
"The fantastical" is the one category that works well, though I am not quite sure how or why it needs be separate from the overarching theme of possible impossibility, or impossible possibility. Bobby Anspach's Place for Continuous Eye Contact (2018), a pom-pom and LED-laced dome-cum-meditation, chamber-cum-psychedelic, den-cum-laboratory of ophthalmic experience, bewitched me. The creation is both an artwork and an experience: it requires the viewer to don headphones, repose on a mat upholstered with tiger-themed fleece, and stare into a slim mirror while a hypnotic soundtrack floods her auditory canals. Tranquility and kookiness can coexist, Anspach seems to want to say, and certainly, I encountered both in lying there.
Putting aside the categories—which cannot really be done in a biennial, which is as much about the curation as it is about the art—I am able to reflect on other highlights of the show, like the prepossessing ten-minute video piece The Immigrant (2018), one of four works on view by Katya Grokhovsky. On a smallish, wall-mounted screen, a figure with a papier-mâché lump for a head carries a suitcase around a cul-de-sac and up to the front door of a nondescript house, only to walk away unattended to—forgotten, ignored, or never known about at all. The piece elicits emotion with or without sound, which is helpful in a small space like BRIC's, where video work must be out in the open but not all soundtracks can be played aloud.
Likewise, Vera Iliatova's paintings are as technically expert as their oddball content is beautiful. I was saddened to see them tucked away in a corner where their curious settings and the unnerving innocence of the young, female characters they portray cannot properly flourish. Iliatova's are the only paintings of the lot, but there are other noteworthy instances of more conventional artistry, and many of these make the biennial worth the trip. Rachel Klinghoffer's muted collages on paper include scraps of wrapping paper from her daughter's first Hanukkah that are so carefully incorporated into the compositions that at first I barely noticed them, an effect I found exciting for being subdued. Jordan Nassar's embroidered landscapes are delicate and precise, and Yi Xin Tong's jacquard entitled Animalistic Punk - Fish (2018) is both narratively complex and preternaturally stunning. Finally, I enjoyed Gustavo Prado's Martyr (2018), a stark triptych made of black and white Legos that reproduces details from Jusepe de Ribera's The Martyrdom of Saint Philip .
It is difficult to write about "The Impossible is Possible" as a whole, because it is hard to see it as a whole. Rather like South Brooklyn, it is an assemblage of disparate but largely fascinating parts that may have been more enjoyable to receive had they not been overwhelmed by, or set to the tune of curation that aspires to mean a little too much.