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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

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MAY 2020 Issue
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Things on Walls

Installation view: <em>Things on Walls</em>, organized by New Discretions at Affective Care, 2020. Courtesy New Discretions.
Installation view: Things on Walls, organized by New Discretions at Affective Care, 2020. Courtesy New Discretions.

On View
Affective Care
Things on Walls
January 3 – June 10, 2020
New York

While galleries, museums and institutions are now trying to imagine how art will continue through and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the only certainty is that things will be radically different both privately and collectively. The connectedness between bodies and precarity of our specific bodily vulnerabilities has hit us in the face as we watch and partake in the spread of the virus, desperately search for masks, and grapple with the scarcity of ventilators needed to care for patients. While some consider the health and economic crisis a rational outcome of capitalist production, others speculate on karma and conspiracy. Anxiety prevails and questions bombard our psyches: What will become of us? What shapes will life take now? How will healing, politics, art, and, dare I think it—prices—change?

In what now seems like prescient thinking borne out of a creative collaboration, the exhibition Things on Walls at Affective Care—an operating medical office specializing in psycho-interventionist treatment—explores sculpture in a variety of mediums, including ceramics, wood, cast paper, resin, metal, and video. Organized by New Discretions, a curatorial project by Benjamin Tischer of Invisible-Exports, the show includes 17 works that play in the overlaps of “inner” life understood as both designed physical space and psycho-sensory interiority.

In the unfolding temporalities of this novel coronavirus, our attention requires ongoing adjustment as we plan online meetings for tea, for work, for fun, and ultimately for the survival of human connection. In Lucky DeBellevue’s “Zurich” (2016, block printing ink on linen, 20 × 20 x 1 in), part of a series of prints with different city names in their titles, the artist pokes fun at the inherent fiction of moving across time zones between destinations. A circle ink blocked with what looks like giant pieces of turquoise confetti is overlaid with black rectangular clock-hands positioned at 19:05. Whether waiting in a doctor’s reception or anxiously deciding on when to venture out for groceries, as our routines are paused or even severely disrupted, we enter a dissociative state as if time is speeding up or seeming to stop altogether.

Installation view: <em>Things on Walls</em>, organized by New Discretions at Affective Care, 2020. Courtesy New Discretions.
Installation view: Things on Walls, organized by New Discretions at Affective Care, 2020. Courtesy New Discretions.

In our newly exposed and uneven fragilities, what will we say about what was happening from our various spaces of shelter or confinement? The use and abuse of our data becomes even more of a threat as the ways we are connecting shift (for example in the demands for greater transparency in medical ethics or justifications for increased surveillance). And yet, storytelling survives. Encountering Peter Clough’s Peter (Mirror) (2016, plexiglass, wood, electronics, 24 × 18 × 2in), visitors come face to face with a silent electronic performance revealing only Cheshire cat eyes and mouth stretched wide, flickering between expressions. The facial gestures become hypnotic in our attempt to discern hails from the reflective surface that simultaneously projects our own reactions back to us. We can see ourselves thinking: What is this face, and what is my face, even doing here? And why are we bugging out like that? Clough, a lifestyle sub and multimedia performance artist, shows how subtle exchanges of power can happen through digitized intimacy. This work captures the uncanny voyeurism of a video chat wherein formerly private moods are put on display and secrets that would otherwise remain hidden begin to surface.

Like the donated masks turning up as both good news and Orwellian advertisement, from companies like Pornhub.com and Ikea (initially purchased for medical fetishists and the last ‘avian flu’ outbreak, respectively), this group of conceptual sculptures—mostly on walls—has been smuggled out beyond their usual downtown locales to be intimately spaced in situ throughout sound-proofed uptown patient rooms. In the room labeled “Office B,” one of two Paul Gabrielli sculptures bares a cut of a bathroom scene: a lone cloth sock, washcloth, and zipper become a single element hung elegantly over a wooden towel rack (Untitled (2018)). An everyday scene that makes you grateful for a shower becomes exciting as we publicly imagine our private abodes together. Justin Adian’s two works Bullfighter (2019) and Last Drop (2019) affect the smoothness of high-end organic soaps that have melted and been stuck together in the shower. But these are soaps that merely show possibilities rather than cleanse—like silky 3-D printed Rorschach tests come to life—through the hand of the artist’s biomorphic imaginary. The self-described painter experiments in exciting painting, yet also revels in the myth of the death of his medium.

Installation view: <em>Things on Walls</em>, organized by New Discretions at Affective Care, 2020. Courtesy New Discretions.
Installation view: Things on Walls, organized by New Discretions at Affective Care, 2020. Courtesy New Discretions.

Things on Walls reflects a collaboration of interiors—sometimes a gallery within a functioning medical practice, sometimes an exhibition in the midst of a patient’s treatment. As an experimental context for an exhibition that resists relinquishing art to mere decoration, the works interact with the design of the office. For example, a lonely quasi-anatomical statue—a shiny bulbous bronze gracefully balanced on its limb—is positioned just beneath the doctor’s wall of diplomas to offer a satisfying pause in Christina Kruse’s Settled (2019, bronze, wood, ink, 59 × 18 × 23 in). Opposite of which is Walt Cassidy’s shiny jagged brass framed in wood (Attack on the Ascending (2012)). Nineties club kid turned high-end jeweler, Cassidy uses his wood frame to ground and situate the violence inherent in mining and molding beautiful objects. And in Douglas Rieger’s Querelle (2017, wood, string, silicone, 20 × 13 × 8 in) and Gabriela Vainsencher’s Untitled (2019, porcelain and underglaze), the artists trade on the absurdity of believing either in an all-knowing science or the power of faith. Wonder remains active from each of their pseudo-devices worked into either the shape of a kneeling or kaleidoscopic form to signal prayer pews or new kinds of bodies twisting out from beneath the microscope.

How much do we want to get away from life as we’re living it now? And what will it mean to escape all this and return to each other? Rear View (Black Ice) (2019) is fabricated from a found rearview mirror, plastic cushion, and an air freshener by Double Vision (a collaboration between Agathe Snow and Marianne Vitale). This piece is brilliant for its subtle offering of a literal and metaphorical space for dipping back into our own interiors. Forced to face the rearview mirror the“wrong” way, from angles that eschew flattering, the physicality of this disorientation is welcoming.

There was no normal. We always needed stories, myths, signs, and curatives, and Things on Walls asks what stories we told ourselves about ourselves and others—the poor in pocket, the #crip, the pervert, the artist. Diana Shpungin, who (as of this writing) also has a solo show up at MoCA Tucson through May 3, conjures and controls Medusa’s magic as she “carves” layers out of pulp, seemingly turning paper to stone in the aptly titled Good Bad (2018, pigmented casting cotton paper pulp, luminous silver pigment, 54 × 38 × 1 in). The effect of an old stone cast in cotton, a lightweight material potentially more protective than ever, is eerie given the weight of cloth in our newly limited zones of contact. Places that are still open or never closed are places deemed essential—they are places where we buy food, get care, places where we shit, shower, and cry. Out there, and in here, then and now, there are still things up on walls.

Contributor

Darla Migan

Darla Migan is an emerging art critic living in upstate New York. She is a graduate of the Masters in Philosophy and the Arts at SUNY Stony Brook where she wrote her Master’s thesis on Foucauldian ‘counter-conducts’ and St. Augustine’s Confessions. Recently she completed her Ph.D in Philosophy at Vanderbilt University with a dissertation on orienting authentic judgment and Adrian Piper’s contributions to Black aesthetics.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues