He, She, It

August 2nd, 2013

“In place of a hermeneutics,” wrote Susan Sontag, “We need an erotics of art.”  Sontag’s revolutionary demand against heady criticism, written 50 years ago, might be sated by Hair and Skin at Derek Eller Gallery, a group show curated by gallery director Isaac Lyles.

This invigorating show provides a robust sample – often grotesque – of diverse sexual circuits encompassing individuals, objects, couples, and combinations therein.  And presiding over a grouping of much more recent work are two of the greatest proto-perverts, Louise Bourgeois and Hans Bellmer (whose photos here got him kicked out of Nazi Germany).

Aura Rosenberg at Derek Eller Gallery

Aura Rosenberg’s Capricorn (Suzanne and Gary) captures a print of two artists who pressed onto black velvet their painted white bodies conjoined in a sexual position.  This particular work is part of a series that Aura Rosenberg developed from a classic black-light poster, The Afronomical Ways.

Polish artist Aneta Grzeszykowska, on the other hand, uses video to plunge deep within – or at least a knuckle deep – to index the holes of her body.  Intermittently, she arranges some of her “choice” parts into a grid, like a menu, from which she can select one to feature.  In one amusing scene, the breasts begin to drift and collide in Brownian motion.

Brownian Breasts: Aneta Grzeszykowska at Derek Eller

Aneta Grzeszykowska is no stranger to images of dismemberment.  Her chilling 2007 video, Black, had a parental advisory when it screened in A Disagreeable Object at Sculpture Center last year.  Both videos, which remind me of Mika Rottenberg’s photos in Jew York, bear a relevance to Lacan’s “mirror stage,” making her work especially compelling in Hair and Skin, a show that considers a different mirror: the mirror neuron.

Isaac Lyles writes, “Mirror neurons, found in the human brain, are the subject of recent research on ‘physical empathy,’ the ability to physically respond to, for example, someone breaking their leg or a couple having sex. The brain actually simulates the experience of what it sees. In other words: ‘What I see, I feel.’”

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He continues, “The work is visceral, it connects to our phenomenal consciousness, speaks to corporeal experience, and the unruliness of desire. The centrality of the body, the means of communicating its vicissitudes, and the effects (physical, emotional) of this communication are the subject of Hair and Skin.

David Dupuis at Derek Eller Gallery

The latter paragraph finds a model in a gorgeous drawing by steadfast draftsman David Dupuis.  Two fit men embrace in a limb-trading bundle.  Modulations of blue colored pencil render muscle and tension, but they also add the illusion of a subcutaneous glow.  Bare white pockets – a shoulder blade, a hip, a hand, ears – transport to paper the experience of sensual saturation, where space and time might dissolve, taking physical boundaries with them.

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Meanwhile, estrangement and effacement are the signals I caught from Daniel Gordon’s dexterous set-up/photo/collage works.  They seem funny when compared to the grave qualities of the haunting drawings by Chloe Piene and Lionel Maunz, or Maunz’ abject and coffin-shaped sculpture made from things we shed, but that might just be from the nip-and-tuck agility of their facture.

Daniel Gordon at Derek Eller Gallery

Hair and Skin makes a strong argument for visceral, boldily-oriented art that calls to and responds to our basic drives.  It’s a tight show that would be easy to expand.  After all, what could be important in art than sex and death?  What better means is there, beyond the body?  And if I am thinking about this show, rather than running from it (or toward it), have I missed an erotic experience?

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